Thursday, October 04, 2007


Blackwater denies charges

(The Guardian) - The US company at the centre of the scandal over the role of private security guards in Iraq brushed aside accusations that it was a cowboy outfit yesterday, even as details emerged about a incident in which an allegedly drunken member was involved in a fatal shooting. Testifying before a congressional hearing Erik Prince, the normally secretive head of Blackwater, denied his company was overly aggressive.
The company is in the middle of a tug of war between the Iraqi government and the US state department following the alleged killing of 11 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad on September 16. Blackwater has been blamed.
The Iraqi government has called for the company to be expelled but the state department, which relies on Blackwater for protection of its diplomats, wants it to stay. The hearing offered the first opportunity to hear Blackwater's side of the story in detail. But the US justice department unexpectedly stepped in at the last minute and asked that the congressional committee and Mr Prince avoid specific questions about the September incident.
In an opening statement before the House oversight committee, Mr Prince, 38, defended his company in relation to the killings. "There has been a rush to judgment based on inaccurate information, and many public reports have wrongly pronounced Blackwater's guilt for the deaths of varying numbers of civilians," he said. "Congress should not accept these allegations as truth until it has the facts.
Based on everything we currently know, the Blackwater team acted appropriately while operating in a very complex war zone on September 16."
But a memo by congressional staff said Blackwater has been involved in an average of 1.4 shootings a week. The memo detailed various incidents, including one on December 24 when a 26-year-old Blackwater staffer killed a 32-year-old guard to Adil Abd al-Mahdi, the Iraqi vice-president, provoking an angry response from the Iraqi government.

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