Blackwater USA: Let's debate based on facts
Union Tribune (2007-08-17) Andrew Howell, Blackwater Worldwide general counsel
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By Andrew Howell
August 17, 2007
Despite San Diego holding one of the nation's largest concentrations of military and law enforcement, it is critically short on the training facilities those professionals need to safely and effectively perform their duties. Blackwater proposes to open such a training facility. While thorough and thoughtful debate on this plan and on Blackwater is welcome, a campaign of misinformation has led the discourse far from reality and clarification is in order.
First, the facility would exist to train our nation's law enforcement and military professionals. Contrary to anti-war hyperbole injected into this debate, Blackwater is, at its core, a training company and has been since long before the Iraq war. We have trained more than 100,000 of our nation's first responders, preparing them to do their jobs with the highest level of expertise. Our sole interest in California is providing a world-class training facility for those who protect and serve.
The facility itself is not what strident detractors argue. Of more than 800 acres, only 200 would be for training – the remainder maintained just as it is today. Although a helipad would bring emergency medical support to the area, there would be no ongoing flight operations. There would be small-arms and driving training only.
Blackwater does operate a security consulting division from its headquarters in Moyock, N.C. And while that aspect of the business will remain completely independent from the proposed facility in Potrero, Blackwater's adversaries have used the work we do for the United States and our allies abroad to influence the West Coast debate.
Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there was a compelling need for highly trained U.S. veterans with a proven record of honorable service who would selflessly place their lives at risk providing protective services for our country. To be sure, Blackwater professionals are among the bravest and most dedicated people in the world. Purposeful use of the term “mercenary” creates a division – and slanders these military veterans who have volunteered to face harm, not to fight, but to protect and defend. It demeans the public debate to flippantly and inaccurately call them “mercenaries.”
Regarding Blackwater itself, more than 90 percent of our current contracts were competitively bid and are firm fixed-price – meaning risk of loss is on Blackwater, not the taxpayer – and 100 percent were based on merit and capability to do the job. The two “no-bid” contracts awarded for services in Iraq were issued by the U.S. government under urgent and compelling circumstances, on terms it approved, because Blackwater was prepared and qualified to provide the required support. The total number of security professionals deployed worldwide for the company is about 1,250 – not exactly the massive “secret army” some fervently portray.
Another myth is that security contractors are totally unregulated and unaccountable. It is a willful misstatement of reality. All private security in Iraq coordinates activity with uniformed services via operations centers and, as expressly clarified in 2006, is subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Even before the clarification, a virtual truckload of federal statutes governed where, how, when and for how much government security services are provided – and any criminal misconduct is covered by laws such as the War Crimes Act, the Anti-Torture Statute and Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. Blackwater has always supported effective enforcement of these laws.
Many myths have been circulated about Blackwater. But we have been far more interested in defending Americans than in defending ourselves against conspiracy theories and ridiculous claims.
Blackwater is in the unique position to offer much needed training services to law enforcement and military professionals in San Diego County. The company's record for these services is unblemished, and it would be terrible if the proposed project was endangered by an undiluted fountain of propaganda spewed publicly by people with political and personal agendas.
Blackwater supports a solid policy debate on privatization – so long as it is based on factual information.
- Howell is general counsel for Blackwater USA. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy and William & Mary's School of Law, he entered the practice of law after more than a decade of active duty military service. He continues to serve in the Reserves.