Waxman takes a shot at Blackwater

A tale of shooting first, shooting drunk and charging a lot for the service.

Published October 1, 2007 6:08PM (EDT)

Rep. Henry Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing Tuesday into Blackwater USA's activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a memo to committee members from the committee's staff -- one-sided as it may be -- provides quite the curtain raiser.

The highlights of the charges:

Blackwater shooting incidents: Waxman's staff says that Blackwater's own records show that its security forces have fired shots in at least 195 "escalation of force" incidents in Iraq since 2005. In more than 80 percent of those incidents, Blackwater's reports say that Blackwater's personnel fired first. "In the vast majority of instances in which Blackwater fires shots, Blackwater is firing from a moving vehicle and does not remain at the scene to determine if the shots resulted in casualties," Waxman's staff says. "Even so, Blackwater's own incident reports document 16 Iraqi casualties and 162 incidents with property damage, primarily to vehicles owned by lraqis. In over 80 percent of the escalation of force incidents since 2005, Blackwater's own reports document either casualties or property damage."

An alcohol-involved Blackwater shooting: "In a high-profile incident in December 2006, a drunken Blackwater contractor killed the guard of Iraqi Vice President Adil Abd-al-Mahdi," Waxman's staff says. The staff says that the State Department allowed Blackwater to get the contractor out of Iraq quickly and suggested that the company make a $250,000 payment to the Iraqi guard's family in order to avoid the risk that the Iraqi government might banish Blackwater from the country. The staff says that the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service balked at such a high payment, saying that it could cause Iraqis to "try to get killed so as to set up their famil[ies] financially," and that the State Department and Blackwater agreed on a $15,000 payment instead. It's not the only case in which the staff says the State Department dealt with Blackwater shootings solely by urging the company to pay off a victim's family.

The high cost of Blackwater: Waxman's staff says that the State Department is paying Blackwater the equivalent of $445,891 per contractor per year. A real apples-to-apples comparison may be difficult, but Waxman's staff argues that that's six to nine times as much as the government would pay if it had an Army sergeant performing the same work.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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