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The truth behind Blackwater

Ms Nbc (2007-09-21) Keith Olbermann, Jeremy Scahill

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Sept. 21: After talks with Iraq’s government, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is allowing Blackwater contractors to resume work on a limited basis. Author Jeremy Scahill discusses Blackwater, as well as the role of contractors in Iraq. 'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 21 Read the transcript to the Friday show

OLBERMANN: The Blackwater shootout in Iraq. A third investigation starting tonight. The contractors, described by our next guest as mercenaries, hit the Iraqi streets again today. nswer is.

You‘re watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: They are immune from Iraqi prosecution and do not answer to the U.S. military. They are private American security forces in Iraq who have lately been likened to a lawless class of citizens.

In our fourth story on the “Countdown,” Blackwater resumes its protection of diplomats, four days after its guards allegedly killed 11 civilians, including a woman and child. As for that immunity from Iraqi prosecution that may not resumed. The interior ministry has drafted legislation to give its government the power to prosecute. American contractors, in the wake of Sunday‘s slaughter at Baghdad‘s Nishuer (ph) Square, those American convoy run under the protection of Blackwater resumed today after consultations with the Iraqi government.

The top aide to Prime Minister al Maliki admitted it would be difficult to expel Blackwater and private contractors, as had been threatened earlier this week.

Meantime, Secretary of State Rice has today ordered a full review of private security contractors guarding U.S. diplomats in Iraq, bringing to three the number of U.S. or joint U.S.-Iraqi investigations of Sunday‘s shootings.

Blackwater USA maintains that its State Department convoy had responded to an armed attack.

But an Iraqi government report based on eyewitness accounts said American security guards fired first and indiscriminately after somebody heard a car bomb detonating a mile away.

Today a Senate Policy Committee hearing began its own long task of trying to sort through this mess.


DONALD VANCE, PRIVATE SECURITY CONTRACTOR: You‘ll find it varies, company to company. Some, I would say, obey these rules of engagement to the T. Some, such as the last company that I worked for, had no rules of engagement whatsoever. There was no oversight. You do not have to report anything adverse that happened on the road.


OLBERMANN: Let‘s turn now to an investigation reporter for “The Nation” magazine Michael Hirsh, author of “Blackwater on the Rise of the World‘s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Jeremy Scahill.”

Mr. Scahill, Thank you for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: You were also one of the panelists at that Senate policy hearing today. Start with a minute of Blackwater 101. How vast are these private security forces in Iraq? How did we become so reliant upon them? And is it just me that thinks it‘s beginning sound like “Lord of the Flies” out there?

SCAHILL: Or the Wild West. The Bush administration failed to build the coalition of willing nations, so instead it builds a coalition of billing corporations. In Iraq, there are 180,000 so-called private contractors operating alongside 170,000 U.S. troops. The military is the junior partner in the coalition that‘s occupying Iraq. And of these 180,000 contractors, perhaps the most prominent and dangerous are the heavily armed mercenaries of Blackwater USA.

OLBERMANN: So it also looks like these people, in particular, Blackwater, are tied to the policy, the Iraq policy of President Bush, but also the president‘s penchant for cronyism?

SCAHILL: This is a demand-based industry and without the occupation of Iraq and continued funding of the war, Blackwater wouldn‘t exist. This country is interesting. It‘s sort of the Mazaradi of mercenary firms.

And the head of the company is a man named Eric Prince, who is a radical right wing Christian evangelical, who has been a major bankroller of political campaigns of President Bush and his allies and the core groups that make up the radical religious right. Blackwater literally is making a killing off the escalation of violence and bloodshed in Iraq.

OLBERMANN: There are extraordinarily differing accounts of what happened on Sunday. But in “Newsweek,” Michael Hirsch described a Blackwater guard that got drunk at a Christmas party and killed somebody for sport. The guard was never named. He was supposedly sent home by the company. End of that story.

What kind of incidents have you found in your investigation that would make our hair stand up on end?

SCAHILL: Blackwater has been in Iraq since the beginning. It was awarded a $27 million no-bid contract to protect Paul Bremer, the original ambassador. They regularly engaged in fire fights.

During one fire fight where they were shooting Iraqis in Najaf, where they were shooting at Iraqis, they were caught on film talking about it being a turkey shoot. There have been numerous allegations that Blackwater operatives have shot civilians. Some of its operatives have used ammunition of a blended metal type that‘s banned by the U.S. military, and then gone on to brag about how they watched the Iraqi victim‘s stomach explode.

And this also a company that is effectively trying to declare itself above the law in the United States. It‘s being sued for wrongful death by families of former employees of Blackwater. And the company has actually said it should be entitled to same immunity from civilian litigation as the military. And at the same time, its highly-paid lobbyists have been waxing poetic about how it would be inappropriate to place them under the uniform code of military justice because they‘re civilians. So they have effectively declared themselves above the law.

OLBERMANN: What are the remedies?

SCAHILL: The Bush administration shouldn‘t be allowed to use unaccountable mercenary forces to mask the scope of the occupation. None of them have been prosecuted, Keith. Not a single armed contractor. So either we have tens of thousands of Boy Scouts working as mercenaries in Iraq or something is fundamentally wrong with the system.

I also placed the blame on the Congress. It has taken them four years to make them wake up to the fact that there are more contractors than soldiers in Iraq. And there is absolutely no effective system of oversight and there‘s no punishment for the crimes they are committing.

OLBERMANN: It is madness to the extreme.

Jeremy Scahill, the author of “Blackwater, the Rise of the World‘s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.” Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

SCAHILL: Thanks, Keith.

Media Form edit

Title The truth behind Blackwater
Publisher Ms Nbc
Author Keith Olbermann, Jeremy Scahill
Pub Date 2007-09-21
Media Link
Keywords Blackwater
Media Type Video
Author Name Sortable Olbermann, Keith
Topic revision: r2 - 24 Sep 2007, RaymondLutz
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