Blackwater Whitewash?

The Justice Department accused Blackwater Worldwide contractors in Baghdad of an "'unprovoked and illegal attack'" on unarmed Iraqi civilians last year that killed at least 14 and wounded 20, according to documents released by DOJ and a Post story by Del Wilber.

"One man was shot in the chest while he raised his arms in the air, prosecutors said. Another was wounded when a contractor's grenade detonated in a nearby girls school, and 'many were shot inside of civilian vehicles while attempting to flee,' prosecutors said in bringing federal manslaughter charges against the guards in the Sept. 16, 2007, shooting," Wilber's story said.

"'None of the victims of this shooting were armed,'" said Jeffrey A. Taylor, U.S. attorney for the District, who announced the 35-count indictment issued by a federal grand jury in Washington. "None of them was an insurgent," the story said.

Five Blackwater guards were charged with voluntary manslaughter and related counters. A sixth pleaded guilty on Friday to voluntary manslaughter and attempting to commit manslaughter.

It looks like the department is working toward justice in the case. But that's likely not so, at least according to a searing piece by Post columnist Gene Robinson.

Robinson contends that "it's probably the exact opposite -- a whitewash that absolves the government and corporate officials who should bear ultimate responsibility."

He notes that prosecutors claimed that those involved in the "unprovoked attacks will be held accountable." But he asks: What about the company, which was not charged? What about the policy makers, who opened the way to the unprecedented use of contractors in the war? What about the government?

How are they being held accountable?

"As with the torture and humiliation of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, our government is deflecting all scrutiny from the corporate higher-ups who employed the guards -- to say nothing of the policymakers whose decisions made the shootings possible, if not inevitable," Robsinson writes.

"Putting national security in the hands of private companies and private soldiers was bad practice from the start, and incidents such as what happened at Nisoor Square are the foreseeable result. The five Blackwater guards may have fired the weapons, but they were locked and loaded in Washington."

What do you think? Is this fair?

Michael Lent, the editor and publisher of Government Services Insider, had some thoughts about this. Here's an excerpt:

"Contracting is a necessity--we don't have the forces and don't want to put them there--when you deploy American power. If you put a brake on contracting, you limit our ability to deploy; in the Iraq case, that might have had an upside--but we can't leave the troops there now unsupported and unprotected. As prosecutions and investigations have shown, we will have some element of criminality and waste among the large numbers of US civil servants, military members, and contractors in Iraq. I believe that the new administration and the government services industry have the means and the intent of stepping up resolution of the serious problems that have arisen in Iraq contracting."

By Robert O'Harrow |  December 9, 2008; 12:08 PM ET Contract workers
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Religious and dangerous right wing Erik Prince needs to be arrested and thrown in jail. Blackwater needs to be dismentaled before it is too late. This is a dangerous army of right wing mercenaries who will not hesitate to shoot anyone who opposes them. With the talibans, they are the most dangerous people on earth. Americans should be very afraid of these people.

Posted by: deedee985 | December 10, 2008 11:03 AM

The "whitewash" of government contractor excesses is only a symptom of a larger, systemic cancer that is taking over our country's so-called defense establishment.

Contracting or privatizing our military and intelligence operations has become a way of life for the federal govt under the Bush Administration. The cost in credibility, effectiveness and money has been staggering. It's one of the reasons that Joseph Steiglitz, the Nobel prize winning economist calls the conflicts in Iraq/Afghanistan "The 3 trillion dollar war."

According to journalist Tim Shorrock in his new book, Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing:

"In 2006… the cost of America's spying and surveillance activities outsourced to contractors reached $42 billion, or about 70 percent of the estimated $60 billion the government spends each year on foreign and domestic intelligence… [The] number of contract employees now exceeds [the CIA's] full-time workforce of 17,500… Contractors make up more than half the workforce of the CIA's National Clandestine Service (formerly the Directorate of Operations), which conducts covert operations and recruits spies abroad…

"To feed the NSA's insatiable demand for data and information technology, the industrial base of contractors seeking to do business with the agency grew from 144 companies in 2001 to more than 5,400 in 2006… At the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the agency in charge of launching and maintaining the nation's photoreconnaissance and eavesdropping satellites, almost the entire workforce is composed of contract employees working for [private] companies… With an estimated $8 billion annual budget, the largest in the IC [intelligence community], contractors control about $7 billion worth of business at the NRO, giving the spy satellite industry the distinction of being the most privatized part of the intelligence community…"

The scope of government contracting is now so large and pervasive that it's become an accepted and entrenched way of conducting government operations. Who is going to challenge the status quo when there are so many vested interests involved?

Posted by: ChicagoJohn | December 10, 2008 11:10 AM

These two comments are understandable, but misdirected. Unfortunately after my Army service, the Army outsourced KP (kitchen "police")--peeling potatoes, stirring soup, washing dishes. No complaint. Outsourcing now covers a lot of lower end, menial tasks; in Iraq, this means cheap Iraqis drive trucks in harms way, not Army privates. That means fewer soldiers are needed, and they can attend to warfighting. Contractors are not conducting Army combat operations, nor almost all direct support to them, e.g., maintaining artillery. The other comment just totes up the billions that the IC spends on contractors. That's a lot of spending, but the mission has multiplied since September 11, and a lot of people have retired. The presence of contractors doing support--or mission work (e.g., operating radios, data warehousing--does not necessarily mean waste, fraud or abuse. You might as well also look at what employees are doing. According to IC data, betweeen 25 and 35 percent of all IC positions are done by contractors. Of course there is some waste in that. Who's to say it is any more wasteful that what government employees do? No one has. The key to this is looking at agencies' missions and the growth in them.
The new administration may do this a lot more wisely than the current crew, which is incompetent at the White House level, at a minimum.

Posted by: axolotl | December 10, 2008 12:21 PM

In response to comment from axolotl: Obviously not all government contracting is wasteful. The problem is the scale and scope of privatization of government services and the lack of genuine oversight in contracting. The mission may have grown, but as in so many government operations over the past decade (not just in Bush Administration), accountability is strikingly absent.

In July the Washington Post reported: "More than 900 cases alleging that government contractors and drugmakers have defrauded taxpayers out of billions of dollars are languishing in a backlog that has built up over the past decade because the Justice Department cannot keep pace with the surge in charges brought by whistle-blowers, according to lawyers involved in the disputes.

The issue is drawing renewed interest among lawmakers and nonprofit groups because many of the cases involve the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rising health-care payouts, and privatization of government functions -- all of which offer rich new opportunities to swindle taxpayers...

Supporters of federal intervention in the cases say the dividends are substantial: In recent years, verdicts and settlements have returned nearly $13 billion to the U.S. government."

How ironic that contracting for outside services might actually increase the need for more government employees to keep the contractors honest and prevent fraud.

Posted by: ChicagoJohn | December 11, 2008 12:21 PM

ChicagoJohn,
You refer to the backlog of False Claims Act suits. Before the rise in these suits, which are almost all civil, not criminal, it still took the govt 1-2 years to decide whether to take them over. The government chooses not to take on most of them because the whistleblowers' cases are weak--repeat weak, e.g., lack any or sufficient documentary evidence. Most that are brought by the US Justice Dept. end up in settlements out of court, not trials. And almost all settlements allow the company to deny wrongdoing but pay a fine. Overwhelmingly, healthcare--most pharma companies and hospital chains, for example--is responsible for most of the successful cases and fraud recoveries. We are not surprised, right? Iraq contracting is bad, eh? But most publicly known criminal prosecutions involve government personnel--civilian and military. KBR gets away with a lot, but it is mainly the stuff of he said/she said audit findings, not court cases. But, in total Iraq expenditures, which is the bigger waste of money--US military personnel and US civilians, or contractors? If you believe, as many Americans do, that the whole war is a mistake, not to mention negligently managed and policed, the US government itself has wasted hundreds of billions more dollars than government contractors. More importantly, there are all the US and Iraqi casualties. We need to keep our eye on the ball. Incompetence and negligence and fraud need to be pursued wherever they are found. But in most cases, it is government (personnel) we deserve, not the contractors, who are responsible. One could argue, but I leave it up to you ChicagoJohn-no-friend-of Blago, but isn't oversight and policing more necessary within the civil service and military ranks than among contractors? Who's wasting more?

Posted by: axolotl | December 11, 2008 12:59 PM

When contractors use weapons, they are mercenaries, which are banned as war crimes by the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries of 1993. Responsible journalists should state that the actions are war crimes, as their silence amounts to participating in a cover-up of a crime. For more details, see the soon-to-be-published book "George W. Bush, War Criminal? The Bush Administration's Liability for 269 War Crimes."

Posted by: mikehaas | December 11, 2008 3:00 PM

O'Harrow I couldn't agree more with recent commentor st50taw. The point I have brought up repeatedly is that this so called "Blog" isn't going anywhere and hasn't had anything substantive to say on contracting or waste fraud and abuse since you started it. It is because you don't understand the contracting business from the government side or the perspective of the contractor or contract employee and you are dead lazy in attempting to learn more. In addition, your biases on the issues are pretty well known and are exhibited in the stuff you do manage to get into print. You can't sit around your house or office and direct readers to read work done by other reporters or reference pages in the FR or DCAA Regulations without understanding them yourself. I read several newspapers daily and don't need or expect you to direct my attention to a story.."in case you missed it or wern't paying attention." Anyone who reads this sorry "blog" must have some interest in contracting issues. Besides, you miss a lot of what is out there in what is ostensibly your area of expertise. You need to get off your duff and get out there and talk to the contracting officers, the business people and a range of employeeson both sides of the equation so that you can grasp the essence of what is happening here. You are living in a bubble. If you can't hack it then pack it in and write fiction or lines for the Late Show.

Posted by: rjpittya | December 12, 2008 2:21 PM

"Contracting is a necessity--we don't have the forces and don't want to put them there--when you deploy American power..." - Michael Lent

Translation:
A. U.S. citizenry does not have the stomach for The Draft and the military personnel demand is much higher than recruiting can supply.
B. People like Erick Prince and Dick Cheney's buddies at Haliburton got serious dollar signs in their eyes realizing that fact, and so, we ended up with everything from grossly overpriced laundry service and gasoline to trigger-happy, unaccountable mercenaries (sorry but BW still fits the definition in my book).

As far as justice goes, the prison torture debacle and Black Water misdeeds was/are being handled with true military philosophy. And that is: the old saw, "S___ runs downhill."

Verdict: no justice has yet to be served. Will there be any true justice?
We'll have to wait and see what the Obama White House is actually made of.

Posted by: emax1 | December 12, 2008 5:30 PM

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