House Oversight: Blackwater Liveblog One


Well, it looks like the Republicans didn’t manage to persuade Waxman to postpone this.

Here’s a list of today’s witnesses:

  • Erik Prince, Chairman, the Prince Group, LLC and Blackwater USA
  • Ambassador David M. Satterfield, Special Adviser, Coordinator for Iraq, Department of State
  • Ambassador Richard J. Griffin, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Diplomatic Security and Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, Department of State
  • William H. Moser, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Logistics Management, Department of State

Waxman’s opening statement

Waxman starts by hammering on the theory of outsourcing. Mentions that the oversight of the outsourcing has been outsourced.

“Inside our government it has become an article of faith that outsourcing is best.”

Is Blackwater helping, or hurting our efforts in Iraq. What are the costs to taxpayers.

I want to thank Erik Prince. Points out that Prince is a rich kid who served in the military–and thanks him for that service.

Waxman repeats the numbers on sergeants’ pay v. Blackwater costs. Blackwater costs 6 times as much. Cites Gates noting that Blackwater can lure highly trained troops out of service. Mentions the troubling Blackwater incidents. [Waxman is basically reviewing the details from this report.] Waxman got the “may be worse than Abu Ghraib” comment in.

Now talking about State’s oversight of Blackwater. He describes the Blackwater guard shooting a VP’s bodyguard.

“If Blackwater and other companies are really providing better service at lower cost, than the outsourcing makes sense. … Facts, not ideology, need to guide us here.”

FBI asked that Committee not discuss the most recent Blackwater incident.

Waxman: I’ll ask Prince and State witnesses not to discuss the September 17 incident today.

Tom Davis Opening Statement

Outsourcing has been going on for more than 20 years.

We appreciate adding State Department witnesses today. Examine broader range of issues relating to contractors operating in military environment. [More hearings coming.] By some estimates contractors exceed US military personnel in Iraq. Describes how the placement of troops outside of centers, we’ll need more contractors.

Shorter Davis: “The surge means we need more contractors.”

Documents “suggest the State Department is trying to get it right.” But State Department Oversight seems to have some blind spots as well. Is the higher violence a result of a cowboy culture?

“We should take care not to prejudge the ongoing investigations into those events” (the September 17 incident). [I guess it was only a matter of time before we heard “ongoing investigation,” huh? It’s like mother’s milk for Republicans.]

4 Members on each side with opening statements. (Argh! This is one big soapbox!!)

Tierny (D-MA): Whether or not it makes sense to contract out in the first place. Outsourcing has allowed the Administration to double its force with no political price. If we relied more on our allies, they would have shared the decision-making. They’ve paid little private capital. Some 9 individuals a week losing their lives, not reported to the American people. Harming counter-insurgency effort. And we have far too few govt managers to oversee this.

McHenry (R-Mysterious gay men surrounding him-NC): Irresponsible to investigate September 17 investigation. Irresponsible. Irresponsible. Irresponsible. Blackwater has protected dozens, if not hundreds of Congress. Not one member of Congress injured or killed under Blackwater protection. Don’t listen to the press! Let us cover-up this incident!! We all abhor the loss of any human life. We should exercise patience, “ongoing investigations.” Let’s not follow the front page dictates of trial lawyers, as this committee has done.

Maloney (D-NY): Troubling reports on incidents involving Blackwater. Blackwater guards, highly trained, yet they make 6 times more than our military. I do not believe that Blackwater guards are more committed or more disciplined or more effective than American Armed Services. Why are we privatizing to an organization that has been aggressive and in some cases reckless. There are many questions we have on accountability. We were told we were going to save the govt money. It is costing significantly more for Blackwater to perform these duties.

Burton (R-IN): “Rush to judgment.” It’s going to be thoroughly investigated. While hearing here is okay, I hope everybody including media will know this is not the final report. 54,000 recorded attacks, 6000 a month. This is a time when we should re-evaluate. If we find after the investigation, then things need to be changed. There should not be a rush to judgment. Not one Congressman or public official killed while under the protection of these people.

Cumming (D-MD): The question is whether there’s accountability. Whether it created shadow military that is not accountable to US govt or anyone else. Blackwater appears to be involved in culture of shoot first and sometimes kill, and then ask questions. Are these undermining our mission in Iraq. This is about accountability. I’m going to be very interested in hearing what Prince has to say about accountability.

Issa (R-SoCal): This is not about Blackwater. A repeat of the MoveOn attack on Petraeus’ patriotism. We’re seeing what they couldn’t do to our men and women in Iraq. I’m not here to defend Blackwater. I am here to defend Petraeus and men and women in military. Many here speaking as though those on the dais don’t want to attack. We do not want military guarding State personnel.

[Republicans going over time repeatedly]

Kucinich (D-OH): A British polling agency determined more than a million Iraqis have died during the war. What is the government’s position on shooting of civilians. Private contractors have vested interest in keeping this war going. Blakwater’s approach undermines the US position and jeopardizes the safety of our soldiers.

Mica (R-FL): From the outset, Democrat side have tried to discredit the President. Did a great job discrediting the Iraqi govt. On page 15, a 48% drop in deaths, they don’t want that good news to get out. On the front page, other killings by Blackwater, I don’t know what happened on the 16th, If they’re intent on criminal misconduct. We are interfering with State investigation and Criminal investigation. [Say it–say “ongoing”!] If we really want to do this, we should not be holding this hearing. I move that the committee adjourn.

The No’s have it.

[It is stunning how closely the Republicans are aligning a hearing on Blackwater with discrediting the President–what does that say???]

Erik Prince: [He is sworn in]

Waxman: there have been press reports on September 16 incident. Conflicting accounts. I want to note that for the record the request to refrain from public comment came from DOJ, not Prince or anyone else. I know you’ve been prepared to talk about it, please don’t go into it.

Prince: Blackwater dedicated, risk their lives to protect Americans overseas. Under direction and oversight, allow veterans to continue their service to the US. I am proud to be there to represent them today. Blackwater employees, all veterans. No individual protected by Blackwater has been killed. [missed the number of Blackwater who have been killed] Areas of Iraq are dangerous and challenging–attacked by terrorists. Blackwater keeps Members of Congress safe. The company are already accountable and subject to numerous treaties and contracts. We look forward to seeing what improvements are necessarily. The worldwide contract was “competitively awarded.” [Uh huh] Blackwater reports to Regional Security Officer. RSO ensures that Blackwater complies with contractual terms and any relevant laws. 1000 people serving in Iraq. Serves only defensive functions. September 16 incident–welcome FBI review, look forward to receiving their conclusions.

Just want to put some things in perspective. This year 1873 diplomatic details outside of Green Zone. Over 56 incidents where weapons were discharged. [Prince’s number shows that more weapons incidents this year than last, percentage basis]

Waxman: We’ve gone a major way to contract out what the govt would normally do. Your company $200,000 in contracts, now over a billion a year, quite a success. We’re paying a lot of money for privatized military. No one does better than our military. Are we paying more and getting less. A particular incident. Nov 27 2004. Plane run by Blackwater, crashed in Afghanistan. Carrying 3 active duty US personnel. Crash investigated. NTSB found that Blackwater captain behaved unprofessionally. Flying the low route “for fun,” pilots unfamiliar with the route. Flight crew joked “your a Star Wars man” “They wouldn’t pay me if they knew how much fun this was.” One senior US commander told WaPo “they act like cowboys.”

Did Blackwater’s pilots act responsibly?

Prince: I disagree that they acted like cowboys. We provided a reliable service to the AF in Afghanistan. Any time you have an accident, it’s an accident, something could have been done better. There’s no nav aids, rugged Alaska-style bush flying.

Waxman: Blackwater violated its own policies. It was your policy that required one pilot to have flown in theater for a month. One said, “I hope I’m going into the right valley. I’m just gonna go up this one.” Why didn’t Blackwater follow its own policies?

Prince: Not qualified to speak to experience of pilots. Was set to take off with two people on board, but we turned around to pick up Lt Col. The military violated their own policy. Yes, accidents happen. We’re flying more than a thousand missions a month.

Waxman: Failed to follow precautions, flight plan, etc. May have caused loss of life for the one survivor. Died of cold from inattention, no way for anyone to know where plane had landed, even though that’s a requirement. Email. Ironic he had to be a passenger on this plane, rather than be responsible for the safety of this flight. Col McMahon is asking why taxpayers should pay your company when military’s own pilots better trained and cheaper.

Prince: we were hired to fill that void. We’re doing small missions. We’re filling that gap. These strips are too small for C17s.

Waxman: You’re saying the military could not do this job?

Prince: They did not have those assets either in theater or in the US. This was a temporary service to fill that gap.

Waxman: Any sanctions placed on Blackwater?

Prince: A company should be introspective.

Waxman: Were you ever fined?

Prince: It was pilot error, not corporate error.

Waxman: Corporation hired inexperienced pilots, didn’t follow your own rules. Aside from your introspection. I want to see if you’re getting a stick as well as all these carrots.

Tom Davis: Yields to the hacks.

Issa [I think]: Did Waxman and Committee investigate Sec Brown’s crash. That was a military crash.

Waxman: that crash was investigated.

McHenry: Can you describe nature of contract, who your client is in Iraq.

Prince: State. Protecting diplomats.

McHenry: How many missions.

Prince: 1873, only 56 incidents. An incident defensive measure, response to IED followed by sniper fire. Incidents occur when our men fear for their lives, they need to use sufficient fire to get off that site where the bad guys have tried to kill Americans.

McHenry: They shoot in the air?

Prince: It’s not likely to be in the air. It’s directed at someone who’s shooting at us.

McHenry: Rules of engagement.

Prince: We do not have the same rules of engagement as a US soldier.

McHenry: How many under your care injured or dead.

Prince: Zero.

McHenry: That is the operable number. Your client is State.

[McHenry has exceeded his time]

Davis: Any other security services that involve as much danger.

Prince: we have a high profile mission.

Davis: how paid.

Prince: per man day. A few things directly reimbursable like insurance. All sorts of penalty clauses, if we don’t have it fully manned. If someone is not operating within rules with State. There are one or two folks contracting to Defense in Iraq.

Davis: Do the contracts provide sufficient guidance.

Prince: full gamut in contracting management. Host of difference in oversight. State most sophisticated buyer.

Davis: What entity has authority to control your men.

Prince; RSO.

Davis: State, ultimately.

Davis: what happens with shooting incident.

Prince: if something goes wrong, we fire, but we can’t do anything more. 122 fired.

Davis: You’ve taken action when it comes to your attention.

Prince: we send note to State.

Maloney: I’d like to talk about one of your fired employees. Drunk, shot and killed guard to Iraqi VP. Fired for handling a weapon and being intoxicated.

Prince: If there’s to be any alcohol consumed, it has to be 8 hours. We’re referred it over to DOJ.

Maloney: They told us they’re still investigating 9 months later. Any charges in Defense justice system, any charges in civilian justice system? Was he fined for killing Iraqi guard.

Prince: Multiple thousands of dollars. Look, I’m not going to make any excuses for what he’s done.

Maloney: If he was under the military he’d be courtmartialed. Within 36 hours he was flown out of Iraq. Did Blackwater arrange to leave less than 2 days after the shooting.

Prince: He was arrested, evidence gathered, info turned over to Iraq,

Maloney: In America, if you commit a crime, you don’t ship him out of the country in two days. Because this shooting took place in Green Zone, could have done forensics. Response was to have him leave the country in two days. How do you justify sending him away from Iraq.

Prince: He was fired. Justice Department investigating. We as a private company cannot detain him. We can fire, we can fine.

Maloney: evidence DOJ investigating at that time.

Prince: [pause] From talking to my people in the country.

Maloney: If he was in America, he would have faced charges. If you work for Blackwater, you get packed up and leave within a few days. I’m concerned about accountability. If I could just say, your actions may be undermining our mission in Iraq.

Burton: Rules of engagement. Warning not to get within 100 meters. If someone’s coming at your vehicle at high rate of speed, any actions?

Prince: Lights, air horn, hand signals, audible yelling, “Stop” in arabic, pen flare. Only after that do they shoot. A whole use of force continuum. [Want to bet those were followed in the most recent shooting?]

Burton: Do you believe any military operation can be absolutely perfect?

Prince: Bad guys just have to get lucky once.

Burton: Nobody’s been killed or hurt under your protection.

Prince: we only play defense. We only get the reconstruction officials away from where the terrorists have tried to kill them that day. Our job is to get them off the X. We’re not there to achieve firepower dominance.

[The thing about Prince is I honestly believe he believes the words he uses, that all the people out there are bad guys and terrorists. It’s the same Manichean view of the world Bush has.]

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