On the evening of May 25th, I had the pleasure of attending the premiere of Jeremy Scahill’s brave new documentary, Blackwater’s Youngest Victim. The film, which is a collaborative effort by Scahill and Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films, tells the story of nine year old Ali Khanani, who was shot by Blackwater mercenaries on September 16, 2007 in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.
Nisour Square is considered to be the highest profile deadly incident involving Blackwater–or any private war contractor. The government’s case against five former Blackwater security guards charged with manslaughter and firearms violations in the Nisour Square incident was supposed to finally hold private security companies accountable for their alleged crimes. However, earlier this year, federal court judge Ricardo Urbina decided to dismiss that case. Rather than focusing on the evidence that existed against these men, Urbina based his decision for dismissal on the grounds that prosecutors in the case had committed gross misconduct and violated the constitutional rights of Blackwater men. The administration responded to the courts decision with assurances that the dismissal would be appealed, but legal analysts everywhere predict that the case is a losing battle. And, perhaps we should not be surprised given the administration’s painstakingly apparent contradictory agenda in both claiming that it wants to hold Blackwater accountable, while simultaneously maintaining Blackwater (now Xe) as a war contractor in what can only be described as the most privatized war in history. As Scahill’s ongoing reporting for The Nation suggests, the number of private contractors currently hired by the state has more than doubled under the Obama Administration.
In a press conference from Baghdad earlier today, Vice President Joe Biden has announced that the U.S. will appeal a district court’s decision to dismiss manslaughter charges against five Blackwater guards involved in a 2007 Baghdad shooting that killed 17 people including children.
When the court’s opinion in the case involving Blackwater was issued on December 31, 2009, Judge Ricardo Urbina premised his dismissal upon the following ‘facts’: 1) that the prosecution’s case was built upon sworn statements that had been given under a promise of immunity, and 2) that this action violated the guards’ constitutional rights. Based on this argument, he concluded that the prosecution’s explanations were “contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility.”
What Judge Urbina’s decision confirms for us, is that contracting companies like Blackwater (now Xe) have historically been granted a ‘get out of jail free’ card due to government assurances of immunity. The devastating result of this: companies like Blackwater have been ‘allowed’ to kill, indeed to the extent that they may even confess to killing, without fear of recourse. Consequently, we see the implications of the abuse of power that Jeremy Scahill’s longstanding critique – of the administration’s failure to exercise greater government oversight over private contractors like Blackwater – is based upon.
In a series of reports for The Nation in November and December of 2009, Scahill revealed that “members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives” both inside and outside of Pakistan. Despite public indictments, Blackwater continues to work for the State Department without oversight.
From The Nation’s press release (You can watch Democracy Now’s interview with Jeremy Scahill here):
In a stunning investigation just posted at TheNation.com, Jeremy Scahill reveals a covert military operation being run almost entirely by Blackwater, USA, a military contractor embroiled in controversy for their actions in Iraq and the Middle East. Key points from the piece:
An elite division of Blackwater, USA is running a covert, US Military operation that includes planning targeted assassinations, “snatch and grabs” and other sensitive actions inside and outside Pakistan. This is a program that not even some Senior Level Obama Administration and Pentagon officials are aware of.
Blackwater operatives are assisting in gathering intelligence to help run a secret, second and heretofore unreported, US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes.
Sources for The Nation report that some non-military Blackwater employees, outside of the US Military chain of command, have obtained rolling security clearances above their approved clearances, and higher than even members of the US Congress.
In the era of embedded media, independent journalists have become the eyes and ears of the world. Without those un-embedded journalists willing to risk their lives to place themselves on the other side of the barrel of the tank or the gun or under the airstrikes, history would be written almost entirely from the vantage point of powerful militaries, or—at the very least—it would be told from the perspective of the troops doing the shooting, rather than the civilians who always pay the highest price.
In the case of the Iraq invasion and occupation, the journalists who have placed themselves in danger most often are local Iraqi journalists. Some 116 Iraqi journalists and media workers have been killed in the line of duty since March 2003. In all, 189 journalists have been killed in Iraq. At least 16 of these journalists were killed by the US military, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The network that has most often found itself under US attack is Al Jazeera. As I wrote a few years ago in The Nation:
The United States bombed its offices in Afghanistan in 2001, shelled the Basra hotel where Al Jazeera journalists were the only guests in April 2003, killed Iraq correspondent Tareq Ayoub a few days later in Baghdad and imprisoned several Al Jazeera reporters (including at Guantánamo), some of whom say they were tortured. In addition to the military attacks, the US-backed Iraqi government banned the network from reporting in Iraq.
An important piece of investigative journalism by Jeremy Scahill exposing the brutal practices of the ‘Immediate Reaction Force’ – better known to the prisoners as the ‘Extreme Repression Force’ – at Guantanamo. Based on new evidence obtained by the Spanish court which initiated criminal proceedings against John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes and Douglas Feith several weeks ago, prisoners speak of routine terror which include breaking bones, gouging eyes, squeezing testicles, and “dousing” them with chemicals. The repression is said to have only intensified since Obama got into office, who reinstated the use of ‘military commissions‘ last week, deemed unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.
As the Obama administration continues to fight the release of some 2,000 photos that graphically document U.S. military abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, an ongoing Spanish investigation is adding harrowing details to the ever-emerging portrait of the torture inside and outside Guantánamo. Among them: “blows to [the] testicles;” “detention underground in total darkness for three weeks with deprivation of food and sleep;” being “inoculated … through injection with ‘a disease for dog cysts;'” the smearing of feces on prisoners; and waterboarding. The torture, according to the Spanish investigation, all occurred “under the authority of American military personnel” and was sometimes conducted in the presence of medical professionals.
More significantly, however, the investigation could for the first time place an intense focus on a notorious, but seldom discussed, thug squad deployed by the U.S. military to retaliate with excessive violence to the slightest resistance by prisoners at Guantánamo.