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Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater
James Risen, NYT, Jun 29 20141

WASHINGTON Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 172 civilians at Baghdad s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Dept began investigating the security contractor s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater s top manager there issued a threat that he could kill the government s chief investigator and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq, according to department reports. Usaian Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Dept investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in Aug 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show.

The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports. After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Dept officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1b to protect Usaian diplomats, had created an environment full of liability and negligence. The investigator, Jean Richter, wrote in an Aug 31 2007, memo to State Dept officials:

The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves.

Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law. The hands off management resulted in a situation in which the contractors, instead of Dept officials, are in command and in control.

His memo and other newly disclosed State Department documents make clear that the Dept was alerted to serious problems involving Blackwater and its government overseers before the Nisour Square shooting, which outraged Iraqis3 and deepened resentment over Usaia s presence in the country. Today, as conflict rages again in Iraq, four Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour Square shooting are on trial in Washington on charges stemming from the episode, the government s second attempt4 to prosecute the case in a Usaian court after previous charges against five guards were dismissed5 in 2009.

The shooting was a watershed moment in the Usaian occupation of Iraq, and was a factor in Iraq s refusal the next year to agree to a treaty allowing Usaian troops to stay in the country beyond 2011. Despite a series of investigations in the wake of Nisour Square, the back story of what happened with Blackwater and the embassy in Baghdad before the fateful shooting has never been fully told. Experts who were previously unaware of this episode said it fit into a larger pattern of behavior.

Peter Singer of the New America Foundation6, who has written extensively on private security contractors, said:

The Blackwater-State Dept relationship gave new meaning to the word dysfunctional. It involved everything from catastrophic failures of supervision to shortchanging broader national security goals at the expense of short-term desires.

Even before Nisour Square, Blackwater s security guards had acquired a reputation among Iraqis and Usaian military personnel for swagger and recklessness, but their complaints about practices ranging from running cars off the road to shooting wildly in the streets and even killing civilians typically did not result in serious action by Usaia or the Iraqi government. But scrutiny of the company intensified after a Blackwater convoy traveling through Nisour Square on Sep 16 2007, just over two weeks after Richter sent his memo, fired on the crowded traffic circle.

A 9-year-old boy was among the civilians killed. Blackwater guards later claimed that they had been fired upon first, but Usaian military officials who inspected the scene determined that there was no evidence of any insurgent activity in the square that day. Federal prosecutors later said Blackwater personnel had shot indiscriminately with automatic weapons, heavy machine guns and grenade launchers.

Blackwater began in 1997 as a small company providing shooting ranges and training facilities in rural North Carolina for the military and for police departments.

After the Usaian-led invasion of Afghanistan and later Iraq, it ramped up to become a global security contractor with billions of dollars in contracts for the State Dept and the CIA. The company s gung-ho attitude and willingness to take on risky tasks were seductive to government officials in Washington. The State Dept, for example, secretly sent Blackwater guards to Shenyang, China, to provide security for North Korean asylum seekers7 who had gone to the Usaian Consulate there and refused to leave for fear the Chinese government would force them to go back to North Korea, according to company documents and interviews with former Blackwater personnel.

But Blackwater s rapid growth and the State Department s growing dependence on the contractor led to unbridled hubris, according to several former company officials. That was fostered, they said, by Erik Prince, who not long before the Nisour Square shooting gathered employees in front of Blackwater headquarters in Moyock, NC, and demanded that they swear an oath of allegiance. Saying that the business was on the verge of being awarded lucrative new contracts, Prince told the workers that they had to take the same pledge as that required of those entering the Usaian military, to display our commitment to the war on terror, several former employees recalled.

As he was speaking, the employees were handed copies of the oath, which had a Blackwater bear paw logo8 on top, and told to sign and return it to their supervisors after reciting the words. But some balked. This was an oath for soldiers, not the employees of a private company, and many in the crowd were veterans who believed that it was inappropriately being linked to the company s commercial prospects.

A former Blackwater employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he had been required to sign a nondisclosure agreement with Blackwater, said:

It was kind of like pledging allegiance to Erik. That s how a lot of us interpreted it.

Soon after State Dept investigators arrived in Baghdad on Aug 1 2007, to begin a month-long review of Blackwater s operations, the situation became volatile. Internal State Dept documents, which were turned over to plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Blackwater that was unrelated to the Nisour Square shooting, provide details of what happened.

It did not take long for the two-man investigative team, composed of Richter, a Diplomatic Security special agent, and Donald Thomas, a State Dept management analyst, to discover a long list of contract violations by Blackwater. They found that Blackwater s staffing of its security details for Usaian diplomats had been changed without State Dept approval, reducing guards on many details from 10to 8, the documents said. Blackwater guards were storing automatic weapons and ammunition in their private rooms, where they also were drinking heavily and partying with frequent female visitors.

Many of the guards had failed to regularly qualify on their weapons, and were often carrying weapons on which they had never been certified and that they were not authorized to use. The armored vehicles Blackwater used to protect Usaian diplomats were poorly maintained and deteriorating, and the investigators found that four drunk guards had commandeered one heavily-armored $180k vehicle to drive to a private party, and crashed into a concrete barrier. Blackwater was also overbilling the State Dept by manipulating its personnel records, using guards assigned to the State Dept contract for other work, and falsifying other staffing data on the contract, the investigators concluded.

A Blackwater-affiliated firm was forcing low-paid workers from Pakistan, Yemen and other countries, including some who performed guard duty at Blackwater s compound, to live in squalid conditions, sometimes three to a cramped room with no bed, according to the report by the investigators. The investigators concluded that Blackwater was getting away with such conduct because embassy personnel had gotten too close to the contractor.

On Aug 20 2007, Richter was called in to the office of the embassy s regional security officer, Bob Hanni, who said he had received a call asking him to document Richter s inappropriate behavior. Richter quickly called his supervisor in Washington, who instructed him to take Thomas with him to all remaining meetings in Baghdad, his report noted.

The next day, the two men met with Daniel Carroll, Blackwater s project manager in Iraq, to discuss the investigation, including a complaint over food quality and sanitary conditions at a cafeteria in Blackwater s compound. Carroll barked that Richter could not tell him what to do about his cafeteria, Richter s report said. The Blackwater official went on to threaten the agent and say he would not face any consequences, according to Richter s later account.

Carroll said that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq, Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Dept officials in Washington. He noted that Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6. Richter stated in his memo:

Mr Carroll s statement was made in a low, even tone of voice, his head was slightly lowered; his eyes were fixed on mine.

I took Mr Carroll s threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract.

He added that he was especially alarmed because Carroll was Blackwater s leader in Iraq, and organizations take on the attitudes and mannerisms of their leader. Thomas witnessed the exchange and corroborated Richter s version of events in a separate statement, writing that Carroll s comments were unprofessional and threatening in nature.

He added that others in Baghdad had told the two investigators to be very careful, considering that their review could jeopardize job security for Blackwater personnel. Richter was shocked when embassy officials sided with Carroll and ordered Richter and Thomas to leave Iraq immediately, according to the documents. On Aug 23, Ricardo Colon, the acting regional security officer at the embassy, wrote in an email that Richter and Thomas had become unsustainably disruptive to day-to-day operations and created an unnecessarily hostile environment for a number of contract personnel.

The two men cut short their inquiry and returned to Washington the next day.On Oct 5 2007, just as the State Dept and Blackwater were being rocked by scandal in the aftermath of Nisour Square, State Dept officials finally responded to Richter s August warning about Blackwater. They took statements from Richter and Thomas about their accusations of a threat by Carroll, but took no further action. Then-Sec State Condoleezza Rice named a special panel to examine the Nisour Square episode and recommend reforms, but the panel never interviewed Richter or Thomas.

Patrick Kennedy, the State Dept official who led the special panel, told reporters on Oct 23 2007, that the panel had not found any communications from the embassy in Baghdad before the Nisour Square shooting that raised concerns about contractor conduct.

Kennedy said:

We interviewed a large number of individuals.

We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not that the embassy had suppressed in any way.

References

  1. ^ James Risen, NYT, Jun 29 2014 (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ fatally shot 17 (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ outraged Iraqis (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ government s second attempt (www.nytimes.com)
  5. ^ were dismissed (www.nytimes.com)
  6. ^ New America Foundation (www.newamerica.org)
  7. ^ North Korean asylum seekers (www.nytimes.com)
  8. ^ Blackwater bear paw logo (www.nytimes.com)

Nevada Progressive: Mack the Gun

We know 2006 may seem like an eternity ago, but please pay attention. And please do join us on this little stroll down Memory Lane.

In 2006, Darren Mack1 was undergoing a bitter divorce with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Charla. He was incensed when Washoe County Family Court Judge Chuck Weller ordered Darren to pay Charla $10,000 per month in spousal support in addition to $849 per month in child support.

He didn’t like Judge Weller’s ruling, so Darren Mack2 responded by “standing his ground”. He stabbed Charla to death, then he shot Weller in a sniper style attack. Even though Darren Mack ultimately plead guilty to the murder of Charla and attempted murder of Judge Weller at a Las Vegas courthouse in 2007, he later recanted his guilty plea.

And even though the Nevada Supreme Court ultimately rejected his appeal, Darren Mack3 is trying again. And wait for this, he believed he was justified in shooting who he saw as a “corrupt judge” and exercising “self defense” against his wife. Sound familiar yet?

During the murder trial, state & national media shined a spotlight on the heinous nature of Mack’s crimes. Even today, one can find shows on cable TV detailing every lurid and horrid aspect of the Mack case. Yet now, it doesn’t seem that extraordinary.

It doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. It doesn’t seem all that shocking. Since Darren Mack’s name and face were splashed all over the front pages in Las Vegas & Reno, we’ve seen the rise of the “Stand Your Ground4” Doctrine that can at least theoretically be used to justify Darren Mack’s crimes.

Hey, Wayne Burgarello5 went ahead and “stood his ground” against someone who didn’t even know he was trespassing. And John my Lee Wicks6 “stood his ground” against a US Marshal and a courthouse security officer who had nothing to do with his denied Social Security claim. (And even if they did, was that shooting really justified?) We’ve also seen the rise of Cliven Bundy7 and “TEA” powered “Range War8” against state & federal law.

Because the Bundy Gang don’t like civil society9, they think they can unilaterally impose armed madness10 upon everyone else. And of course, this has aided the rise of “sovereign citizen11” and “Patriot Movement12” violence. Up north, Brent Douglas Cole13 opened fire on law enforcement agents on federal land.

Down south, Jerad & Amanda Miller14 shot dead two Metro Police Officers and a civilian at a Las Vegas strip mall. And in other parts of the nation, “sovereign citizens” have sought armed conflict with the law… Because all of them refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of our nation of laws.

We can’t help but wonder if Darren Mack has been noticing recent events. Back in 2006, and even in 2008, his crimes were almost universally condemned. But now, we have an entire “movement” of “patriots” and “sovereign citizens” who champion the kind of crimes Darren Mack committed.

And we have the NRA15 backing them up. And we even have a number of G-O-TEA politicians16 standing in the way17 of any effort to rein in the gun violence18 these extremists regularly partake in. While Darren Mack’s latest appeal doesn’t seem likely to succeed, it’s frightening to think he even has a tiny opening today.

And he has the “sovereign revolutionaries”, their cheerleaders at the NRA, and their ideological soulmates to thank for this. 19

References

  1. ^ Darren Mack (murderpedia.org)
  2. ^ Darren Mack (en.m.wikipedia.org)
  3. ^ Darren Mack (lasvegassun.com)
  4. ^ Stand Your Ground (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  5. ^ Wayne Burgarello (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  6. ^ John my Lee Wicks (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  7. ^ Cliven Bundy (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  8. ^ Range War (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  9. ^ civil society (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  10. ^ armed madness (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  11. ^ sovereign citizen (splcenter.org)
  12. ^ Patriot Movement (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  13. ^ Brent Douglas Cole (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  14. ^ Jerad & Amanda Miller (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  15. ^ NRA (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  16. ^ G-O-TEA politicians (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  17. ^ standing in the way (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  18. ^ gun violence (nvprogressive.blogspot.com)
  19. ^ NRA (thinkprogress.org)

AOL.com Article – Tornado strikes SD town, razing homes; only 2 hurt

WESSINGTON SPRINGS, S.D. (AP) – A timely warning allowed an entire South Dakota city to shelter from a tornado that razed dozens of homes and businesses but injured only one or two people in the area, officials said Thursday. Dedrich Koch, a Jerauld County prosecutor, said everyone was accounted for after the twister hit Wessington Springs just before 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Tornado alarms sounded several times, prompting residents to head to the city’s emergency shelter in the basement of the courthouse, Koch said. Charles Bergeleen, who has lived in Wessington Springs since 1981, said the twister moved over hills and through the town, missing his house by 50 feet. “There’s debris all over that (south) end of town; there’s a lot of insulation, wood, siding,” Bergeleen said Thursday. “I found a license plate from Texas in my yard.

I guess it’s from someone who was visiting the area.” Ten businesses were damaged, five of them extensively, and at least 25 of 43 houses that were damaged are uninhabitable, he said Thursday. The city has a population of about 850 residents.

“It cut right through the heart of the residential area; it just missed the hospital, nursing home and school,” Koch said. The American Legion, a bar, an auto dealer and several farms were destroyed or damaged. Lindsey Meyers, a spokeswoman for Avera Health, said Thursday that the only patient who was treated at the hospital in Wessington Springs in connection with the tornado has been released.

Koch said that woman and her husband suffered minor injuries when a tornado hit their home near Alpena, about 15 miles east of Wessington Springs. He had no further details and did not identify the couple. Gov.

Dennis Daugaard arrived in the city about 125 miles northwest of Sioux Falls late Wednesday. He issued a statement saying at least 100 South Dakota National Guard soldiers and equipment would be deployed to help with cleanup. The city was without power overnight and Koch said generators would be provided.

Meyers said some of the hospital’s windows were broken in the storm and that the facility was operating on backup power. The Red Cross has set up a shelter and expects to serve nearly 400 meals to displaced residents, spokesman Richard Smith said. Father Jim Friedrich said the community was thankful that nobody was seriously hurt.

“We do see our blessings right away,” said Friedrich, who’s been preaching at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church for eight years. “It was very serious damage. What it hit, it hit very hard.

That’s just why we are thankful that there was good warning.” The tornado did not strike the church. National Weather Service meteorologist Philip Schumacher said two other tornadoes touched down; one near Lane and another near Alpena.

He said another tornado touched down in Marshall, Minnesota.

Related Slideshow:

Nebraska town ravaged by tornado