This is an edited transcript of the prepared testimony of Jeremy Scahill before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, September 21, 2007.
My name is Jeremy Scahill. I am an investigative reporter for The Nation magazine and the author of the book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. I have spent the better part of the past several years researching the phenomenon of privatized warfare and the increasing involvement of the private sector in the support and waging of US wars. During the course of my investigations, I have interviewed scores of sources, filed many Freedom of Information Act requests, obtained government contracts and private company documents of firms operating in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. When asked, I have attempted to share the results of my investigations, including documents obtained through FOIA and other processes, with members of Congress and other journalists.
I would like to thank this committee for the opportunity to be here today and for taking on this very serious issue. Over the past six days, we have all been following very closely the developments out of Baghdad in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of as many as twenty Iraqis by operatives working for the private military company Blackwater USA. The Iraqi government is alleging that among the dead are a small child and her parents and the prime minister has labeled Blackwater’s conduct as “criminal” and spoke of “the killing of our citizens in cold blood.” While details remain murky and subject to conflicting versions of what exactly happened, this situation cuts much deeper than this horrifying incident. The stakes are very high for the Bush administration because the company involved, Blackwater USA, is not just any company. It is the premiere firm protecting senior State Department officials in Iraq, including Ambassador Ryan Crocker. This company has been active in Iraq since the early days of the occupation when it was awarded an initial $27 million no-bid contract to guard Ambassador Paul Bremer. During its time in Iraq, Blackwater has regularly engaged in firefights and other deadly incidents. About 30 of its operatives have been killed in Iraq and these deaths are not included in the official American death toll.
While the company’s operatives are indeed soldiers of fortune, their salaries are paid through hundreds of millions of dollars in US taxpayer funds allocated to Blackwater. What they do in Iraq is done in the name of the American people and yet there has been no effective oversight of Blackwater’s activities and actions. And there has been absolutely no prosecution of its forces for any crimes committed against Iraqis. If indeed Iraqi civilians were killed by Blackwater USA last Sunday, as appears to be the case, culpability for these actions does not only lie with the individuals who committed the killings or with Blackwater as a company, but also with the entity that hired them and allowed them to operate heavily-armed inside Iraq–in this case, the US State Department.