Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
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This article, by Jeremy Scahill, was published by The Nation, October 22, 2009
On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a series of arguments by lawyers for the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater seeking to dismiss five high-stakes war crimes cases brought by Iraqi victims against both the company and its owner, Erik Prince. At the same time, Judge T.S. Ellis III sent the Iraqis' lawyers back to the legal drawing board to amend and refile their cases, saying that the Iraqi plaintiffs need to provide more specific details on the alleged crimes before a final decision can be made on whether or not the lawsuits will proceed.
"We were very pleased with the ruling," says Susan Burke, the lead attorney for the Iraqis. Burke, who filed the lawsuits in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is now preparing to re-file the suits. Blackwater's spokesperson Stacy DeLuke said, "We are confident that [the plaintiffs] will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis's opinion."
Ellis's ruling was not necessarily a response to faulty pleadings by the Iraqis' lawyers but rather appears to be the result of a Supreme Court decision that came down after the Blackwater cases were originally filed. In a 5-4 ruling in May 2009 in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the court reversed decades of case law and imposed much more stringent standards for plaintiffs' documentation of facts before going to trial. According to Ellis's ruling, which cites Iqbal, the Iraqis must now file complaints that meet these new standards.
Judge Ellis, a Reagan appointee with a mixed record on national security issues, rejected several of the central arguments Blackwater made in its motion to dismiss, namely the company's contention that it cannot be sued by the Iraqis under US law and that the company should not be subjected to potential punitive damages in the cases. The Iraqi victims brought their suits under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows for litigation in US courts for violations of fundamental human rights committed overseas by individuals or corporations with a US presence. Ellis said that Blackwater's argument that it cannot be sued under the ATS is "unavailing," adding that corporations and individuals can both be held responsible for crimes and torts. He said bluntly that "claims alleging direct corporate liability for war crimes" are legitimate under the statute.
Ellis also rejected Blackwater's argument that "conduct constitutes a war crime only if it is perpetrated in furtherance of a 'military objective' rather than for economic or ideological reasons." Ellis said that under Blackwater's logic "it is arguable that nobody who receives a paycheck would ever be liable for war crimes. Moreover, so narrow is the scope of [Blackwater's] standard that it would exclude murders of civilians committed by soldiers where there was no legitimate 'military objective' for committing the murders."
"What is important here is that the judge is saying that violations of war crimes can be committed by private people or corporations," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He said Ellis's ruling is "an affirmation of the precedent set by CCR thirty years ago" when it brought the first successful Alien Tort suit in 200 years "that those who engage in violations of fundamental human rights abroad can be held liable in the US." Ellis's ruling, he says, "is sympathetic to the idea that the Blackwater case is an appropriate use of the law."
But Ellis also ruled that the Iraqi plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient specific details linking Blackwater's owner Erik Prince to the alleged murders and other crimes in Iraq. In order for the case to proceed against Prince, Ellis wrote, "the complaints must state facts that would allow a trier of fact plausibly to infer that Prince intentionally killed or inflicted serious bodily harm on innocent civilians during an armed conflict and in the context of and in association with that armed conflict." The plaintiffs, Ellis ruled, "have failed to meet this burden."
In a hearing on August 28, Burke said that she has evidence that Prince ordered or directed the killings of innocent Iraqis and at that time asked Judge Ellis permission to later amend her cases if Ellis ruled that, in light of the Iqbal decision, such information was necessary for the cases to proceed. In his ruling, Ellis granted Burke's request in four of the five cases. In one case, involving the alleged murder of a bodyguard for the Iraqi vice president by a drunken Blackwater operative, Andrew Moonen, on Christmas Eve 2006 inside the Green Zone, Ellis found that there was insufficient evidence to suggest Prince "intentionally killed" the bodyguard or that his "conduct proximately caused the decedent's death."
In the four other cases, which include 18 Iraqi civilians allegedly killed by Blackwater, Ellis ruled that Burke could refile her claim with more details about Prince's alleged involvement and the role of the Blackwater corporation in the killings. Ellis found that the cases "could be amended to add factual allegations that would permit plausible inferences that Prince and Xe [Blackwater] defendants ordered killings of innocent Iraqi civilians...and that defendants' conduct proximately caused the injuries or deaths to plaintiffs."
Ellis rejected Burke's allegation that Blackwater engaged in summary executions, saying that under the law such classification of killings "require[s] state action, and none is alleged here." Blackwater also made an argument that the cases should have been tried in Iraq--or that the Iraqis' lawyers should have exhausted that possibility before filing their cases in US courts. Ellis shot down that argument and pointed out that Blackwater's own lawyers admitted that under the Paul Bremer-era Order 17 in Iraq, Blackwater would have immunity for its crimes under Iraqi law. Ellis also rejected Blackwater's claim that punitive damages are not allowed in these types of cases. As Ellis wrote, Blackwater's lawyers "offer no support" for this argument "in the case law or from recognized international treatises."
One of the central thrusts of the Iraqis' suits against Blackwater is that Erik Prince is the head of an organized crime syndicate as defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO is a federal statute permitting private parties to seek redress from criminal enterprises who damage their property. Burke and CCR decided to sue Prince and his companies directly rather than his individual employees because they say Prince "wholly owns and controls this enterprise." They allege that Prince directed murders of Iraqi civilians from Blackwater's headquarters in Virginia and North Carolina. Ellis dismissed the claims that the Iraqis have standing under the RICO Act, but ruled that they can file an amended complaint that "Prince ordered or directed the killings allegedly committed in Iraq from within the United States, and that such conduct proximately caused the damage allegedly suffered by the RICO plaintiffs." In one of the cases, Ellis ruled that the four-year statute of limitations had expired for a RICO claim.
On August 3, lawyers for the Iraqis submitted two sworn declarations from former Blackwater employees alleging that Prince may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. One former employee alleged that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." What role, if any, these allegations will play in the amended complaints is unclear, but Burke insists she has evidence to back up all of her allegations.
Burke's case is also bolstered by the evidence the US government will present in its criminal case against Blackwater forces. On September 7, federal prosecutors in Washington, DC, submitted papers in the criminal case against five Blackwater operatives for their alleged role in the 2007 Nisour Square shooting in Baghdad that killed seventeen Iraqi civilians and wounded more than twenty others. Burke is representing many of these families in her civil case. Blackwater forces "fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause," the acting US Attorney in DC, Channing Phillips, alleges in court papers submitted by Kenneth C. Kohl, the lead prosecutor on this case. "[T]he defendants specifically intended to kill or seriously injure the Iraqi civilians that they fired upon at [Nisour] Square." The government also alleges that one Blackwater operative "wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as 'payback for 9/11,' and he repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he had shot," while "several of the defendants had harbored a deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians which they demonstrated in words and deeds."
In its motion to dismiss, Blackwater also argued that to allow the company to be sued for alleged crimes in a war zone would violate the rights of the president of the United States under the "political question doctrine" to not have a "second-guessing of the battlefield decisions of the U.S. government." Ellis rejected that outright and noted: "The United States has appeared as an interested party and argues that if defendants committed the alleged conduct, they were not acting as employees of the United States when they did so. Moreover, the government states that its contracts with defendants 'provided for multiple layers of [Xe defendants'] management to oversee the day-to-day operations' of its employees and that the employees were under the direct supervision of Xe defendants' management when the alleged conduct occurred."
Judge Ellis's ruling only relates to the charges that Blackwater and Prince violated federal laws and not to the additional allegations that they also violated state laws. Even if Judge Ellis ultimately rejects all of the federal arguments made by Burke and CCR, which is a big if, the cases can still proceed under "common law," as has happened in other torture and war crimes cases. Ellis has not yet ruled on those charges
This article, by Peter Beaumont, was published in the Guardian, August 20, 2009
Despite its recent attempt to rebrand itself as Xe Services, Blackwater, the private military empire of Erik Prince, has struggled under a growing weight of allegations surrounding its conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now further questions have been raised by claims it was subcontracted by the CIA during the George Bush presidency to run an unrealised campaign of assassinations of al-Qaida leaders kept secret from Congress.
The claims come hard on the heels of the allegations made in sworn affidavits to a federal court in Virginia earlier this month by two former Blackwater employees that Prince may have had a role in the murder of individuals co-operating with a US government investigation into the company.
While the allegations of the two men cannot be verified independently, the combination of the two affairs – on top of Blackwater's already notorious reputation from Iraq – has added a Robert Ludlumesque aura of intrigue to a secretive company named after the US Navy Seals name for a "black op".
Prince has had to contend with widely reported allegations – contained in the sworn statements – that he "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe".
In addition, one of the two anonymous witnesses – who asked for protection because they said they were afraid of Blackwater – has also accused the company, which earned more than $1bn (£600m) in US government contracts, of smuggling weapons into Iraq and the destruction of incriminating evidence.
Although Xe has denied the allegations, the claims this month are only the latest controversies to have dogged Prince and his company, which has been accused of everything from deceiving the US state department to encouraging its operatives to kill Iraqi civilians.
Although the wealthy Prince founded the company in 1997, the name Blackwater only became imprinted on the public consciousness after the war in Iraq. It gained a reputation for being trigger-happy and ruthless, and soon gained the nickname "Ditchwater" from some British security guards.
The company was finally expelled by the Iraqi government, which refused to renew its licence, although some Xe employees still work there for the state department under the auspices of the so-called US Training Centre.
The company's rapid emergence as one of the world's biggest private military contractors benefited from Prince's Republican connections (he was a donor to Bush) and the revolving door recruitment policy for Pentagon and CIA officials. Prince himself is reported to have been close to top officials in the CIA's directorate of operations and was a regular visitor to its headquarters.
And it was his political connections that opened the doors.
The son of Edgar Prince, a wealthy Republican from Michigan who was one of the founders of the rightwing Family Research Council in the 1980s, Erik Prince had served as an intern to President George Bush Sr before joining the elite Navy Seals for four years, leaving the navy on the death of his father in 1996.
With his inheritance, Prince bought the land in North Carolina that would be transformed into Blackwater's training base, complete with sniper training facilities. This was made available for the training of CIA officers – an organisation with which Prince had high-level contacts – as well as for the training of his private army.
It was in 2002 that Prince and his company finally hit paydirt, securing contracts to protect US government personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, two-thirds of which were awarded on a no-bid basis.
And after the fall of Baghdad, Blackwater suddenly became the most visible private military contractor in Iraq, its bandana-wearing, muscular employees riding shotgun on the convoys they protected with no interest in keeping a low profile. Described once as "mercenaries", Prince countered they were "loyal Americans".
Despite growing uneasiness among many observers about Blackwater's methods, not least after a March 2004 ambush in which four Blackwater guards were killed and their bodies hung from one of the town's bridges, it was an incident in 2007 that sealed its notoriety.
Four of its empoyees shot dead 17 Iraqi civilians – 14 of whom the FBI concluded were killed "without cause". And it was not an isolated incident. In 2005 Blackwater guards accompanying a US diplomat fired scores of rounds into an Iraqi car, while in 2006 a drunken Blackwater employee killed an Iraqi security guard for the country's vice-president. The guard responsible was flown by the company out of Iraq.
A congressional subcommittee report in 2007 described the company as being staffed by reckless guards – not always sober – who would shoot first and not stop to see who they had shot. The same report alleged that Blackwater guards had been engaged in more than 200 shooting incidents in two years, largely from moving vehicles.
It was not only in Iraq that Blackwater had a controversial presence. In the immediate aftermath of hurricane Katrina, heavily armed Blackwater guards were controversially deployed in New Orleans by the department of homeland security to confront armed looters.
The revelation that the CIA had allegedly subcontracted Blackwater into an abortive programme to undertake killings of al-Qaida figures adds further weight to the evidence that the company's real ambition was to take over military and intelligence functions.
That ambition was allegedly alluded to by Cofer Black, director of the CIA's counter-terrorism centre until 2002, and later the department of state's co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, who joined Blackwater in 2005 as vice-chairman. At a conference in Amman in 2006, in comments Black has subsequently denied, he was alleged to have suggested that Blackwater was in a position to provide a brigade-sized group to support humanitarian missions.
Despite the controversies, Blackwater continues to benefit from US government contracts under Barack Obama's presidency. Under Obama the numbers of private military contractors have increased in Afghanistan by almost 30% – the company once known as Blackwater among them.
This article, by Juan Cole, was posted to Informed Comment, August 21, 2009
It was worse.
Back in the bad old days of Bush's corrupt gang, we on the left were pilloried for suggesting that the administration was manipulating terrorism-related news in order to win the 2004 elections. But when Tom Ridge says it . . .
In fact, I argued in summer, 2004, that when Ridge did raise the terrorism alert, it had the unfortunate effect of outing an al-Qaeda double agent who had been turned by the Pakistani government and was helping set a trap for al-Qaeda in the UK. In turn, that caused the British government to have to move against the people it had under surveillance prematurely, harming the case.
Ridge is alleging he was pressured on the eve of the election. But I still wonder about the circumstances of the summer announcement. He might have been being used then, too, and not known it.
And if any of us had said that Dick Cheney was setting up civilian mercenary assassination squads (at least 007 works for the British government), and set things up so that perhaps neither the CIA director nor the president even knew about it, we would have been branded moonbats. But well, that is today's story
You shudder to think what hasn't come out yet.
If Bush and his gang falsely put up the terror alert or even tried to, for partisan political gain, that is a sort of treason. If they thereby ruined a British surveillance operation, they recklessly endangered US and NATO security. If they were arranging for civilian mercenaries to murder people . . . well you'd have to say that they were at least planning to be murderers. (The wingnuts will say that Xe was only being contracted to kill al-Qaeda types; but the wingnuts wouldn't be able to tell a Barelvi from an al-Qaeda supporter if their lives depended on it, and I wouldn't exactly trust Mr. Prince to be fair to Muslims.)
The horrible thing is that Wolf Blitzer on CNN assembled David Frum and Frances Townsend, former members of the Bush administration, to sit around on his afternoon news and analysis program on Thursday afternoon and more or less either call Ridge a liar or pooh-pooh the significance of what he is saying. There wasn't a single centrist or left of center voice to show any outrage. I mean, I know that Time Warner is not made up of people who necessarily care about the little person or social justice or anything. But a little bit of shame?
It isn't enough that the corporate media lied to us for Bush for 8 years, they are continuing to do it. Give money to Amy Goodman.
This article, by Mark Mazzetti, was posted to Common Dreams, August 20, 2009
WASHINGTON - The Central Intelligence Agency in 2004 hired outside contractors from the private security contractor Blackwater USA as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda, according to current and former government officials.
Executives from Blackwater, which has generated controversy because of its aggressive tactics in Iraq, helped the spy agency with planning, training and surveillance. The C.I.A. spent several million dollars on the program, which did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects.
The fact that the C.I.A. used an outside company for the program was a major reason that Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A.'s director, became alarmed and called an emergency meeting in June to tell Congress that the agency had withheld details of the program for seven years, the officials said.
It is unclear whether the C.I.A. had planned to use the contractors to actually capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance in the program. American spy agencies have in recent years outsourced some highly controversial work, including the interrogation of prisoners. But government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.
Officials said the C.I.A. did not have a formal contract with Blackwater for this program but instead had individual agreements with top company officials, including the founder, Erik D. Prince, a politically connected former member of the Navy Seals and the heir to a family fortune. Blackwater's work on the program actually ended years before Mr. Panetta took over the agency, after senior C.I.A. officials themselves questioned the wisdom of using outsiders in a targeted killing program.
Blackwater, which has changed its name, most recently to Xe Services, and is based in North Carolina, in recent years has received millions of dollars in government contracts, growing so large that the Bush administration said it was a necessary part of its war operation in Iraq.
It has also drawn controversy. Blackwater employees hired to guard American diplomats in Iraq were accused of using excessive force on several occasions, including shootings in Baghdad in 2007 in which 17 civilians were killed. Iraqi officials have since refused to give the company an operating license.
Several current and former government officials interviewed for this article spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing details of a still classified program.
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, declined to provide details about the canceled program, but he said that Mr. Panetta's decision on the assassination program was "clear and straightforward."
"Director Panetta thought this effort should be briefed to Congress, and he did so," Mr. Gimigliano said. "He also knew it hadn't been successful, so he ended it."
A Xe spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, also declined to give details of the program. But she praised Mr. Panetta for notifying Congress. "It is too easy to contract out work that you don't want to accept responsibility for," she said.
The C.I.A. this summer conducted an internal review of the assassination program that recently was presented to the White House and the Congressional intelligence committees. The officials said that the review stated that Mr. Panetta's predecessors did not believe that they needed to tell Congress because the program was not far enough developed.
The House Intelligence Committee is investigating why lawmakers were never told about the program. According to current and former government officials, former Vice President Dick Cheney told C.I.A. officers in 2002 that the spy agency did not need to inform Congress because the agency already had legal authority to kill Qaeda leaders.
One official familiar with the matter said that Mr. Panetta did not tell lawmakers that he believed that the C.I.A. had broken the law by withholding details about the program from Congress. Rather, the official said, Mr. Panetta said he believed that the program had moved beyond a planning stage and deserved Congressional scrutiny.
"It's wrong to think this counterterrorism program was confined to briefing slides or doodles on a cafeteria napkin," the official said. "It went well beyond that."
Current and former government officials said that the C.I.A.'s efforts to use paramilitary hit teams to kill Qaeda operatives ran into logistical, legal and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset. These efforts had been run by the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism center, which runs operations against Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.
In 2002, Blackwater won a classified contract to provide security for the C.I.A. station in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the company maintains other classified contracts with the C.I.A., current and former officials said.
Over the years, Blackwater has hired several former top C.I.A. officials, including Cofer Black, who ran the C.I.A. counterterrorism center immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.
C.I.A. operatives also regularly use the company's training complex in North Carolina. The complex includes a shooting range used for sniper training.
An executive order signed by President Gerald R. Ford in 1976 barred the C.I.A. from carrying out assassinations, a direct response to revelations that the C.I.A. had initiated assassination plots against Fidel Castro of Cuba and other foreign politicians.
The Bush administration took the position that killing members of Al Qaeda, a terrorist group that attacked the United States and has pledged to attack it again, was no different from killing enemy soldiers in battle, and that therefore the agency was not constrained by the assassination ban.
But former intelligence officials said that employing private contractors to help hunt Qaeda operatives would pose significant legal and diplomatic risks, and they might not be protected in the same way government employees are.
Some Congressional Democrats have hinted that the program was just one of many that the Bush administration hid from Congressional scrutiny and have used the episode as a justification to delve deeper into other Bush-era counterterrorism programs.
But Republicans have criticized Mr. Panetta's decision to cancel the program, saying he created a tempest in a teapot.
"I think there was a little more drama and intrigue than was warranted," said Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
Officials said that the C.I.A. program was devised partly as an alternative to missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have accidentally killed civilians and cannot be used in urban areas where some terrorists hide.
Yet with most top Qaeda operatives believed to be hiding in the remote mountains of Pakistan, the drones have remained the C.I.A.'s weapon of choice. Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has embraced the drone campaign because it presents a less risky option than sending paramilitary teams into Pakistan.
This article was posted to e-Arianna, May 21, 2009
Two of the four Blackwater-affiliated contractors involved in a civilian shooting incident in Kabul earlier this month have fled to the U.S. in order to avoid possible prosecution from Afghan authorities, according to their attorney.
The four men worked as military trainers for Paravant LLC, an affiliate of Blackwater Worldwide, whose parent company is now called Xe after a recent name change. Paravant was assisting Raytheon Co. on a Defense Department contract.
Armed contractors working for the Defense Department have been a touchy issue in Iraq as well as Afghanistan because of civilian deaths when fighting sometimes erupts. In Afghanistan, the recent incident risks further inflaming anger over civilian deaths caused by U.S. forces, and is a test of the Afghan government's posture toward foreign contractors, who are set to dramatically increase as the Pentagon ramps up the number of troops there in the coming months.
Afghanistan does not have a formal agreement with the U.S. governing legal accountability for contractors, and issues about jurisdiction remain hazy. U.S. defense firms are very wary of subjecting their employees to legal systems in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Daniel Callahan, of Callahan & Blaine in Santa Ana, Calif., said that two of the men, Steve McClain and Justin Cannon, "slipped out" of their compound on Saturday and made it to a hotel in Kabul, where a friend helped them. Soon after they flew to Dubai, and then on to the U.S.
Their two colleagues, Chris Drotleff and Armando Hamid, were to follow, but Mr. Callahan has not heard from them since late Sunday. Paravant terminated the four men for contract violations following the May 5 nighttime shooting incident that left one Afghan bystander dead and wounded two others in a car.
He said his clients were held against their will by the company, a claim which Xe has denied.
"They didn't want to take a chance but they felt they were going to get flipped over to the Afghans," said Mr. Callahan, who previously representing the families of four Blackwater security guards killed in Iraq in a lawsuit against the company. "These guys called me on a Friday night and needed help getting free," he said. Blackwater has been criticized in the past for spiriting away contractors who may have broken rules or run afoul of local authorities.
The U.S. military has almost wrapped up its investigation of the incident, according to Lt. Col. Chris Kubik, a spokesman in Afghanistan. He said Paravant cooperated with U.S. authorities. "They kept the guys here until their portion of the investigation was done," he said. Afghan authorities have not asked for jurisdiction so far.
A Blackwater spokeswoman declined to comment.
According to Mr. Callahan, who had been in contact with the four men via an intermittent Internet phone connection, the contractors said they were traveling in the second of two company vehicles when a car came up behind them, passed, and then smashed into the lead vehicle. The four men got out of their vehicle when the Afghan car swerved toward them as if to run them over, prompting them to open fire.
The men were armed with AK-47 assault rifles because a manager told them to carry them, even though they weren't supposed to have weapons at that time, according to Mr. Callahan. The weapons allegedly came from a captured stockpile, he said.
A person familiar with the situation said that several of the contractors, who are former military personnel, had been drinking that night, in violation of their contract. Mr. Callahan said an allegation alcohol played a role in the incident is untrue. "We believe Blackwater is trying to paint these men as out on a lark and drinking so that the company can maintain its ability to work in Afghanistan after losing its work in Iraq," he said.
This article, by Fisnik Abrashi, was posted to Military Times, May 18, 2009.
KABUL — Four U.S. contractors for the private security company formerly known as Blackwater are accusing the company of holding them against their will in Afghanistan after their involvement in a shooting this month, a lawyer said Saturday. A spokeswoman for the company denied the allegation.
An Afghan died and two others were wounded in the May 5 shooting, which followed a car accident in Kabul, said Lt. Col. Chris Kubik, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul.
Blackwater was involved in a 2007 shooting in a busy square in Baghdad, Iraq, that left as many as 17 Iraqi civilians dead and led to the end of its Baghdad operations this month. It has since changed its name to Xe.
The nature of the shooting and the allegations made by the lawyer highlight the murky legal world in which private security companies operate in Afghanistan.
A California lawyer, Daniel Callahan, contacted by the contractors told the Associated Press that the Army had cleared the four men to leave Afghanistan on May 12 after completing their questioning in the shooting. But the men are now being held against their will by the company's executives in a company "safe house" in a Kabul mosque, he said.
The men think that Xe is attempting to negotiate a deal in which it would hand them over to Afghan authorities in exchange for official permission to remain in the country, Callahan said.
Kubik said the U.S. military in Afghanistan is still investigating the incident, and that he did not know whether the four had been cleared to leave the country.
The contracting company took the four away on Thursday from a military compound where they normally lived and they were never detained by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Kubik said.
Anne Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Xe — based in Moyock, North Carolina — denied that the four were being held against their will, and said they were Xe contractors employed by a company named Paravant.
"What I can tell you is that they have been terminated and have been asked not to leave the country without the approval and direction of the (Department of Defense)," Tyrrell said.
"Paravant terminated the contracts with the four individuals involved in the incident for failure to comply with the terms of their contract, which require, among other things, compliance with all laws, regulations, and company policies," Tyrrell said. She did not specify what company policy they had violated.
The company is cooperating in the military investigation, said Kubik, the spokesman for the Combined Security Transition Command, which is involved in the training of Afghan security forces and for which the contractors worked.
"If the investigation finds some fault, culpability ... that will be looked at by legal personnel to determine future actions," Kubik said.
A U.S. military statement after the incident said the contractors were involved in a vehicle accident in Kabul on May 5.
"While stopped for the vehicle accident, the contractors were approached by a vehicle in a manner the contractors felt threatening," the statement said.
The contractors fired at the vehicle, wounding two Afghans, said the initial statement, issued May 6.
Callahan, who said he had spoken with at least two of the contractors involved in the incident, gave a different account.
He said the contractors were traveling in two vehicles when another car hit the first vehicle.
"They got out of the second vehicle, went to administer aid to the crash of the two cars ahead. And the insurgent vehicle, if we can call it that, abruptly made a U-turn and headed right at the men as they were standing," Callahan said.
"These four men drew their guns and shot. They killed the driver and they also shot a pedestrian that was about 200 meters away. I was told that that pedestrian is in a coma," Callahan said.
But Shah Agha, the brother of one of the wounded men, said they were not insurgents, but shopkeepers who were shot while driving home from work.
Agha said his brother Farid and his cousin Romal were traveling together when they saw Americans blocking the road. He said they were waved through one checkpoint, but were stopped by another team of Americans further down the road.
He said one of the Americans hit the side of the car, which Farid mistook for an order to move. As he drove off, bullets started hitting the back of the car, hitting Farid in the hand and Romal in the stomach. Romal died two days later, Agha said. Another person was wounded outside the car, he said.
Callahan alleged that the four contractors were being used as scapegoats for Xe's violation of its weapons permit in the country.
He said that workers employed by the men's company were not supposed to be armed, according to the letter of authorization between the company and the Department of Defense.
Kubik did not know whether the contractors were allowed to carry weapons.
"Blackwater violated the letter of authorization by giving these guys these guns," Callahan said. "And now they want to put the blame on them so as to relieve Blackwater of the violation. And I think they are hanging these men to dry."
Tyrrell said there was no blanket ban for the company on carrying weapons in Afghanistan.
"It really depends on the work. We provide different services in different places," she said.
Callahan was the attorney who represented the families of four Blackwater employees killed in Iraq in 2004 who sued the security company.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The troubled Blackwater era ends in Iraq on Thursday as another firm takes over the once-dominant company's security services contract in Baghdad.
Triple Canopy, a Herndon, Virginia-based company, picks up the expiring contract of the security firm formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide, which changed its name to XE a few months ago. The U.S. State Department decided not to renew XE's contract in January.
"When the U.S. government initially asked for our help to assist with an immediate need to protect Americans in Iraq, we answered that call and performed well," XE spokeswoman Anne Tyrell said in a statement Wednesday. "But we always knew that, at some point, that work would come to a close."
The end of the contract followed the Iraqi government's refusal to renew the firm's operating license because of a September 2007 shooting in which Baghdad says security guards -- then employed by Blackwater -- killed 17 Iraqi civilians.
As part of a contract to protect American diplomats and other employees around the world, the State Department hired Blackwater for a multiyear assignment in Iraq, renewable annually.
XE, one of three security firms working for the United States in Iraq, had one of the biggest contracts there, providing security for the sprawling U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
"We are honored to have provided this service for five years and are proud of our success. No one under our protection has been killed or even seriously injured," Tyrell said.
Many XE employees are expected to go to work for Triple Canopy, which already had a State Department contract in Iraq. Its new contract increases its share of the security work. DynCorp International also has a State Department contract for work in Iraq.
Losing the contract is considered a huge blow to XE. While the company is privately held, the Iraq contract has been estimated to make up a third to a half of its business. XE has about two dozen aircraft in Iraq as well as 1,000 personnel.
XE's statement acknowledged that the company's Baghdad "task order" ends Thursday but was mum on any other roles it still might have in Iraq.
"Any specific questions on the contract and how it will now be fulfilled should be directed to the State Department," Tyrell said.
Despite the loss of the embassy security detail, XE continues to hold other contracts with the State Department to protect American diplomats elsewhere in the world. The company's founder, Erik Prince, resigned as head of the business in March.
In January, five former Blackwater security guards pleaded not guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and other serious crimes stemming from their involvement in the September 16, 2007, incident in a Baghdad square. A sixth former security guard has pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.
Blackwater said its employees were returning fire after armed insurgents attacked them, but an Iraqi investigation concluded that the guards randomly fired at civilians without provocation. The Iraqi government said 17 civilians were killed, although the indictment alleges 14 died.
The company does not face any charges. But the Baghdad incident exacerbated the feelings of many Iraqis that private American security contractors have operated since 2003 with little regard for Iraqi law or life.
The indictment of the five men represents the first prosecution of non-Defense Department contractors under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act.
The act was amended in 2004 to allow the Justice Department to prosecute such personnel providing services "in support of the mission of the Department of Defense overseas."
Last year, the State Department renewed Blackwater's contract over strong objections from the Iraqi government. Starting January 1, the Iraqi government has mandated that all contractors obtain Iraqi licenses to operate.
This article, by Jeremy Scahill, was posted to Alternet, March 2, 2009
The company formerly known as Blackwater continues its mission to bury its tarnished reputation and soldier on. Early this morning, Blackwater founder Erik Prince released a brief statement announcing he is stepping down as CEO of the infamous mercenary firm he started in 1997. A press release from the company -- which last month renamed itself "Xe" -- said Prince "will now focus his efforts on a private equity venture unrelated to the company."
In a personal message sent to his employees and clients, Prince sought to cast his departure as a natural part of the firm’s ongoing evolution. "As many of you know, because we focus on continually improving our business that Xe is in the process of a comprehensive restructuring,” he wrote. “It is with pride in our many accomplishments and confidence in Xe's future that I announce my resignation as the company's Chief Executive Officer."
Prince's resignation could be seen as a public formality in what has been a dramatic attempt to scrub all public vestiges of Blackwater, given that he remains chairman and sole owner of the network of companies now operating under the Xe umbrella. But it's clear the firm has been thrown into turmoil in recent months. As the Xe statement says, "These appointments follow the addition and departures of several other key personnel. Recent departures from the company include its former Vice Chairman, Chief Operating Officer, President, and Executive Vice President." Joseph Yorio, an ex-Army Special Forces officer and former Vice President of the international shipping company DHL was announced as the new Xe president -- a somewhat humorous development, given Prince's fondness for describing Blackwater as the "FedEx of the U.S. national security apparatus." Meanwhile, Danielle Esposito, a longtime Blackwater employee, was named Xe's new Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President.
The rebranding of Blackwater and its attempts to hide its former self have been downright crude. The company's domestic training centers, which some refer to as private military bases, are now simply labeled "U.S. Training Center." Gone is the sexy black-and-red logo featuring a bear paw in a sniper-scope; it has been replaced by a nondescript, rather amateurish sketch of an American Eagle. The company website has been revamped and scaled down.
One thing that does remain is the Blackwater ProShop, where you can still purchase items ranging from all the ammunition and tactical gear you would need for your own private war, to the ever-popular Blackwater teddy bear. There is currently a blow-out sale in Blackwater baby onesies, which have been reduced from $18 to $10. Toddler polos have also had their ticket price slashed.
Blackwater's new name and Prince's resignation come following the State Department's recent announcement that it would not be renewing Blackwater's security contract in Iraq. Some have speculated that many of its operatives may be rehired by the State Department through other companies or the Department itself. Moreover, Blackwater still holds lucrative government contracts in Afghanistan and elsewhere and is marketing "CIA-type services" to Fortune 1000 companies through Prince's Total Intelligence Solutions. And a 184-foot vessel operated by the company (named the MacArthur) is reportedly heading for the Gulf of Aden to fight pirates. Nevertheless, some see the recent developments as Blackwater's funeral.
Still, the company clearly remains concerned with activist campaigns against the "new" company and is taking the necessary precautions. In April 2008, almost a year before "Xe" was officially launched, Blackwater bought the URLs xewatch.com, .org and .net. But activists who have mobilized against Blackwater have launched a rebranding campaign of their own. While Blackwater beat them in the URL game, the folks at BlackwaterWatch.net -- whose homepage currently reads: "DON'T BE FOOLED -- XE IS Blackwater!" -- recently reaffirmed their activism, sending out an e-mail saying:
"Xe Watch (formerly Blackwater Watch) was formed in 2007 as a spin-off of North Carolina Stop Torture Now. Headquartered in Blackwater's home state of North Carolina, Xe Watch seeks to shine a light on Blackwater USA specifically, and private armies/mercenaries generally, with respect to their human rights violations, absence of accountability and their profiteering at the expense of, and lobbying for, war and conflict. Xe Watch represents a growing contingent of concerned individuals and groups including, but not limited to, human rights and peace activists, people of faith, civil libertarians, and veterans. We are in solidarity with the people in San Diego, California, Mount Carroll, Illinois and Coeur d' Alene, Idaho who are fighting Xe's mercurial growth and expansion."
This article, by Nedra Pickler, was published by the Associated Press, February 17, 2009
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the manslaughter case against five former Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of spraying innocent Iraqis with machine-gun fire can continue.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina denied two motions to dismiss the case against the five men accused in a September 2007 shooting that left 17 Iraqis dead and another 20 wounded in a busy Baghdad intersection.
The five argued that they are not subject to U.S. civilian criminal laws because they were working overseas under a contract with the State Department to help provide security for diplomats. A legal loophole says only contractors who work for or support the Defense Department can be prosecuted in U.S. courts for crimes committed overseas.
Defense attorney Mark Hulkower pointed out that President Barack Obama, who now overseas the Justice Department that is prosecuting the case, sponsored a bill while a senator to close the loophole so State Department contractors could be prosecuted in U.S. courts. "But that hasn't occurred yet," Hulkower said.
Federal prosecutors argued the men were supporting the work of the Defense Department by helping to create a stable, self-governing Iraq. They said they would offer evidence at trial that their employment supported the Defense Department.
Urbina sided with prosecutors and agreed that the issue should be heard at trial. But he noted that the "defendants' points on this issue are rather strong" and predicted it would be an issue that either he or a jury would decide later.
The five defendants — all decorated military veterans — are charged with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of using a machine gun to commit a crime of violence. The machine-gun charge, typically used in drug cases, carries a 30-year minimum prison sentence.
The trial is scheduled to begin in a year against ex-Marines Donald Ball of West Valley City, Utah, Dustin Heard of Knoxville, Tenn., and Evan Liberty of Rochester, N.H.; and Army veterans Nick Slatten of Sparta, Tenn., and Paul Slough of Keller, Texas. All five were present at Tuesday's hearing, but none of them spoke.
Lawyers for the five men also argued that the case should be dismissed because it was improperly filed in Washington, where none of them lives. They suggested the case be handled in Utah. The judge dismissed that argument as well.
Blackwater has not been charged in the case. It announced Friday that it was changing its name to Xe, which is pronounced like the letter "z," to help repair damage to its reputation.
The Iraqi government has labeled the guards "criminals" and is closely watching the case. The shooting strained relations between Washington and Baghdad and fueled the anti-American insurgency in Iraq. Many Iraqis saw it as a demonstration of American brutality and arrogance.
The shooting took place around noon on Sept. 16, 2007, in the crowded Nisoor Square. Prosecutors said civilians were running errands, getting lunch and otherwise going about their lives. Iraqi witnesses said the contractors opened fire unprovoked and left the square littered with blown-out cars.
But the Blackwater guards contend they were ambushed by insurgents. Blackwater radio logs made available to The Associated Press by a defense attorney in the case describe a hectic eight minutes in which the guards repeatedly reported incoming gunfire from insurgents and Iraqi police.