It's a very busy news day today. In particular, with the important decision from the U.S. Supreme Court (on corporations being granted religious rights and chipping away at more union rights) and the usual partisan chum which is irresistible to network and cable news wags, I'd hate to see this jaw-dropping report from James Risen at New York Times get lost amidst all the holiday week noise.
This amazing story reveals that the billion-dollar private security contracting firm Blackwater, hired by the George W. Bush Administration for all manner of things in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, was apparently even running rough-shod over the U.S. government itself. An investigation into allegations of their corrupt activities in 2007 --- well before their employees are said to have opened random automatic-weapon fire on a crowd in Iraq's Nisour Square (leading to deaths of 17 civilians, including a 9-year old boy) and the enormous blowback against U.S. troops and other interests that subsequently came with it --- was reportedly shut down by the Administration at the time after the firm's "top manager" in Iraq threatened the U.S. State Department's investigator looking into Blackwater's unbridled abuse of power and contract corruption.
According to documents buried by the U.S. government until now, Blackwater's chief in Iraq, Daniel Carroll warned State Dept. investigator Jean C. Richter to his face "that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq".
The government's investigation of Blackwater went away almost immediately thereafter...
Here's the lede from Risen's amazing report:
American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 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 Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created "an environment full of liability and negligence."
"The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves," the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. "Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law," he said, adding that the "hands off" management resulted in a situation in which "the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control."
His memo and other newly disclosed State Department documents make clear that the department was alerted to serious problems involving Blackwater and its government overseers before the Nisour Square shooting, which outraged Iraqis and deepened resentment over the United States' presence in the country.
There are many more jaw-dropping revelations in Risen's report today, all very well worth reading...