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Nation -- Editor's Note: This is an edited transcript
of the prepared testimony of Jeremy Scahill before the Senate
Democratic Policy Committee, September 21, 2007.
My name is Jeremy Scahill. I am an investigative reporter
for The Nation magazine and the author of the book Blackwater:
The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. I
have spent the better part of the past several years researching
the phenomenon of privatized warfare and the increasing
involvement of the private sector in the support and waging
of US wars. During the course of my investigations, I have
interviewed scores of sources, filed many Freedom of Information
Act requests, obtained government contracts and private
company documents of firms operating in Iraq, Afghanistan
and elsewhere. When asked, I have attempted to share the
results of my investigations, including documents obtained
through FOIA and other processes, with members of Congress
and other journalists.
I would like to thank this committee for the opportunity
to be here today and for taking on this very serious issue.
Over the past six days, we have all been following very
closely the developments out of Baghdad in the aftermath
of the fatal shooting of as many as 20 Iraqis by operatives
working for the private military company Blackwater USA.
The Iraqi government is alleging that among the dead are
a small child and her parents and the prime minister has
labeled Blackwater's conduct as "criminal" and
spoke of "the killing of our citizens in cold blood."
While details remain murky and subject to conflicting versions
of what exactly happened, this situation cuts much deeper
than this horrifying incident. The stakes are very high
for the Bush administration because the company involved,
Blackwater USA, is not just any company. It is the premiere
firm protecting senior State Department officials in Iraq,
including Ambassador Ryan Crocker. This company has been
active in Iraq since the early days of the occupation when
it was awarded an initial $27 million no-bid contract to
guard Ambassador Paul Bremer. During its time in Iraq, Blackwater
has regularly engaged in firefights and other deadly incidents.
About 30 of its operatives have been killed in Iraq and
these deaths are not included in the official American death
While the company's operatives are indeed soldiers
of fortune, their salaries are paid through hundreds of
millions of dollars in US taxpayer funds allocated to Blackwater.
What they do in Iraq is done in the name of the American
people and yet there has been no effective oversight of
Blackwater's activities and actions. And there has been
absolutely no prosecution of its forces for any crimes committed
against Iraqis. If indeed Iraqi civilians were killed by
Blackwater USA last Sunday, as appears to be the case, culpability
for these actions does not only lie with the individuals
who committed the killings or with Blackwater as a company,
but also with the entity that hired them and allowed them
to operate heavily-armed inside Iraq--in this case, the
US State Department.
While the headlines of the past week have been focused
on the fatal shootings last Sunday, this was by no means
an isolated incident. Nor is this is simply about a rogue
company or rogue operators. This is about a system of unaccountable
and out of control private forces that have turned Iraq
into a wild west from the very beginning of the occupation,
often with the stamp of legitimacy of the US government.
What happened Sunday is part of a deadly pattern, not
just of Blackwater USA's conduct, but of the army of mercenaries
that have descended on Iraq over the past four years. They
have acted like cowboys, running Iraqis off the road, firing
indiscriminately at vehicles and, in some cases, private
forces have appeared on tape seemingly using Iraqis for
target practice. They have shown little regard for Iraqi
lives and have fueled the violence in that country, not
just against the people of Iraq but also against the official
soldiers of the United States military in the form of blowback
and revenge attacks stemming from contractor misconduct.
These private forces have operated in a climate where impunity
and immunity have gone hand in hand.
Active duty soldiers who commit crimes or acts of misconduct
are prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,
the court martial system. There have been scores of prosecutions
of soldiers-- some 64 courts martial on murder-related charges
in Iraq alone. That has not been the case with these private
forces. Despite many reports--some from US military commanders--of
private contractors firing indiscriminately at Iraqis and
vehicles and killing civilians, not a single armed contractor
has been charged with any crime. They have not been prosecuted
under US civilian law; US military law and the Bush administration
banned the Iraqi government from prosecuting them in Iraqi
courts beginning with the passage of Coalition Provisional
Authority Order 17 in 2004. The message this sends to the
Iraqi people is that these hired guns are above any law.
US contractors in Iraq reportedly have their own motto:
"What happens here today, stays here today." That
should be chilling to everyone who believes in transparency
and accountability of US operations and taxpayer funded
activities-- not to mention the human rights of the Iraqis
who have fallen victim to these incidents and have been
robbed of any semblance of justice.
The Iraqi government says it has evidence of seven
deadly incidents involving Blackwater. It is essential that
the Congress request information on these incidents from
the Iraqi authorities. What we do know is that in just the
past nine months, Blackwater forces have been involved with
several fatal actions. Last Christmas Eve, as Katy mentioned,
an off-duty Blackwater contractor allegedly killed a bodyguard
for the Iraqi Vice President. Blackwater whisked that individual
out of the country. Iraqi officials labeled the killing
a "murder" and have questioned privately as to
why there has apparently been no consequences for that individual.
Blackwater says it fired the individual and is cooperating
with the US Justice Department. To my knowledge no charges
have yet been brought in that case.
This past May, Blackwater operatives engaged in a gun
battle in Baghdad, lasting an hour, that drew in both US
military and Iraqi forces, in which at least four Iraqis
are said to have died. The very next day in almost the same
neighborhood, the company's operatives reportedly shot and
killed an Iraqi driver near the Interior Ministry. In the
ensuing chaos, the Blackwater guards reportedly refused
to give their names or details of the incident to Iraqi
officials, sparking a tense standoff between American and
Iraqi forces, both of which were armed with assault rifles.
The actions of this one company, perhaps more than
any other private actor in the occupation, have consistently
resulted in escalated tension and more death and destruction
in Iraq--from the siege of Fallujah, sparked by the ambush
of its men there in March of 2004, to Blackwater forces
shooting at Iraqis in Najaf with one Blackwater operative
filmed on tape saying it was like a "turkey shoot"
to the deadly events of the past week.
Colonel Thomas Hammes, the US military official once
overseeing the creation of a new Iraqi military, has described
driving around Iraq with Iraqis and encountering Blackwater
operatives. "[They] were running me off the road. We
were threatened and intimidated," Hammes said. But,
he added, "they were doing their job, exactly what
they were paid to do in the way they were paid to do it,
and they were making enemies on every single pass out of
town." Hammes concluded the contractors were "
hurting our counterinsurgency effort."
Brigadier General Karl Horst, deputy commander of the
3rd Infantry Division said of private security contractors,
"These guys run loose in this country and do stupid
stuff. There's no authority over them, so you can't come
down on them hard when they escalate force.... They shoot
people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath.
It happens all over the place." Horst tracked contractor
conduct for a two month period in Baghdad and documented
at least a dozen shootings of Iraqi civilians by contractors,
resulting in six Iraqi deaths and the wounding of three
others. That is just one General in one area of Iraq in
just 60 days.
The conduct of these private forces sends a clear message
to the Iraqi people: American lives are worth infinitely
more than theirs, even if their only crime is driving their
vehicle in the wrong place at the wrong time. One could
say that Blackwater has been very successful at fulfilling
its mission--to keep alive senior US officials. But at what
It is long past due for the actions of Blackwater USA
and the other private military firms operating in Iraq--actions
carried out in the names of the American people and with
US tax dollars--to be carefully and thoroughly investigated
by the US Congress. For the Iraqi people, this is a matter
of life, and far too often, death. In the bigger picture,
this body should seriously question whether the linking
of corporate profits to war making is in the best interests
of this nation and the world. I would humbly submit that
the chairs of relevant committees in both the House and
Senate use their power of subpoena to compel the heads of
the major war contracting companies operating on the US
payroll in Iraq to appear publicly before the American people
and answer for the actions of their forces. I am prepared
to answer any questions.