The truth behind Blackwater
Ms Nbc (2007-09-21) Keith Olbermann, Jeremy Scahill
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Sept. 21: After talks with Iraq’s government, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is allowing Blackwater contractors to resume work on a limited basis. Author Jeremy Scahill discusses Blackwater, as well as the role of contractors in Iraq.
'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 21
Read the transcript to the Friday show
OLBERMANN: The Blackwater shootout in Iraq. A third investigation starting
tonight. The contractors, described by our next guest as mercenaries, hit the
Iraqi streets again today.
You‘re watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: They are immune from Iraqi prosecution and do not answer to the
U.S. military. They are private American security forces in Iraq who have
lately been likened to a lawless class of citizens.
In our fourth story on the “Countdown,” Blackwater resumes its protection
of diplomats, four days after its guards allegedly killed 11 civilians,
including a woman and child. As for that immunity from Iraqi prosecution that may
not resumed. The interior ministry has drafted legislation to give its
government the power to prosecute. American contractors, in the wake of Sunday‘s
slaughter at Baghdad‘s Nishuer (ph) Square, those American convoy run under the
protection of Blackwater resumed today after consultations with the Iraqi
The top aide to Prime Minister al Maliki admitted it would be difficult to
expel Blackwater and private contractors, as had been threatened earlier this
Meantime, Secretary of State Rice has today ordered a full review of private
security contractors guarding U.S. diplomats in Iraq, bringing to three the
number of U.S. or joint U.S.-Iraqi investigations of Sunday‘s shootings.
Blackwater USA maintains that its State Department convoy had responded to an
But an Iraqi government report based on eyewitness accounts said American
security guards fired first and indiscriminately after somebody heard a car bomb
detonating a mile away.
Today a Senate Policy Committee hearing began its own long task of trying to
sort through this mess.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD VANCE, PRIVATE SECURITY CONTRACTOR: You‘ll find it varies, company to
company. Some, I would say, obey these rules of engagement to the T. Some,
such as the last company that I worked for, had no rules of engagement
whatsoever. There was no oversight. You do not have to report anything adverse that
happened on the road.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s turn now to an investigation reporter for “The Nation”
magazine Michael Hirsh, author of “Blackwater on the Rise of the World‘s Most
Powerful Mercenary Army, Jeremy Scahill.”
Mr. Scahill, Thank you for your time tonight.
JEREMY SCAHILL, INVESTIGATIVE REPORT, “THE NATION” & AUTHOR: My pleasure,
OLBERMANN: You were also one of the panelists at that Senate policy hearing
today. Start with a minute of Blackwater 101. How vast are these private
security forces in Iraq? How did we become so reliant upon them? And is it just
me that thinks it‘s beginning sound like “Lord of the Flies” out there?
SCAHILL: Or the Wild West. The Bush administration failed to build the
coalition of willing nations, so instead it builds a coalition of billing
corporations. In Iraq, there are 180,000 so-called private contractors operating
alongside 170,000 U.S. troops. The military is the junior partner in the
coalition that‘s occupying Iraq. And of these 180,000 contractors, perhaps the most
prominent and dangerous are the heavily armed mercenaries of Blackwater USA.
OLBERMANN: So it also looks like these people, in particular, Blackwater,
are tied to the policy, the Iraq policy of President Bush, but also the
president‘s penchant for cronyism?
SCAHILL: This is a demand-based industry and without the occupation of Iraq
and continued funding of the war, Blackwater wouldn‘t exist. This country is
interesting. It‘s sort of the Mazaradi of mercenary firms.
And the head of the company is a man named Eric Prince, who is a radical
right wing Christian evangelical, who has been a major bankroller of political
campaigns of President Bush and his allies and the core groups that make up the
radical religious right. Blackwater literally is making a killing off the
escalation of violence and bloodshed in Iraq.
OLBERMANN: There are extraordinarily differing accounts of what happened on
Sunday. But in “Newsweek,” Michael Hirsch described a Blackwater guard that
got drunk at a Christmas party and killed somebody for sport. The guard was
never named. He was supposedly sent home by the company. End of that story.
What kind of incidents have you found in your investigation that would make
our hair stand up on end?
SCAHILL: Blackwater has been in Iraq since the beginning. It was awarded a
$27 million no-bid contract to protect Paul Bremer, the original ambassador.
They regularly engaged in fire fights.
During one fire fight where they were shooting Iraqis in Najaf, where they
were shooting at Iraqis, they were caught on film talking about it being a
turkey shoot. There have been numerous allegations that Blackwater operatives
have shot civilians. Some of its operatives have used ammunition of a blended
metal type that‘s banned by the U.S. military, and then gone on to brag about
how they watched the Iraqi victim‘s stomach explode.
And this also a company that is effectively trying to declare itself above
the law in the United States. It‘s being sued for wrongful death by families of
former employees of Blackwater. And the company has actually said it should
be entitled to same immunity from civilian litigation as the military. And at
the same time, its highly-paid lobbyists have been waxing poetic about how it
would be inappropriate to place them under the uniform code of military
justice because they‘re civilians. So they have effectively declared themselves
above the law.
OLBERMANN: What are the remedies?
SCAHILL: The Bush administration shouldn‘t be allowed to use unaccountable
mercenary forces to mask the scope of the occupation. None of them have been
prosecuted, Keith. Not a single armed contractor. So either we have tens of
thousands of Boy Scouts working as mercenaries in Iraq or something is
fundamentally wrong with the system.
I also placed the blame on the Congress. It has taken them four years to
make them wake up to the fact that there are more contractors than soldiers in
Iraq. And there is absolutely no effective system of oversight and there‘s no
punishment for the crimes they are committing.
OLBERMANN: It is madness to the extreme.
Jeremy Scahill, the author of “Blackwater, the Rise of the World‘s Most
Powerful Mercenary Army.” Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
SCAHILL: Thanks, Keith.