Blackwater, the private mercenary company owned by Erik Prince, has been thrust back into the spotlight by a series of stunning revelations about its role in covert US programs. Since at least 2002, Blackwater has worked for the CIA in Afghanistan and Pakistan on “black” contracts. On August 19, the New York Times revealed that the company was, in fact, a central part of a secret CIA assassination program that Dick Cheney allegedly ordered concealed from Congress. The paper then reported that Blackwater remains a key player in the widening air war in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where it arms drone aircraft. These disclosures follow allegations–made under oath by former Blackwater employees–that Prince murdered or facilitated the murder of potential government informants and that he “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.”
In addition, Blackwater is being investigated by the Justice Department for possible crimes ranging from weapons smuggling to manslaughter and by the IRS for possible tax evasion. It is being sued in federal courts by scores of Iraqi civilians for alleged war crimes and extrajudicial killings. Two of its men have pleaded guilty to weapons-smuggling charges; another pleaded guilty to the unprovoked manslaughter of an Iraqi civilian, and five others have been indicted on similar counts. The US military is investigating Blackwater’s killing of civilians in Afghanistan in May, and reports are emerging that the company may be implicated in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.
And yet, despite these black marks, the Obama administration continues to keep Blackwater on the government’s payroll. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, Blackwater still works for the CIA, the State Department and the Defense Department to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, and its continuing presence is an indicator of just how entrenched private corporations are in the US war machinery. The United States now deploys more private forces (74,000) than uniformed soldiers (57,000) in Afghanistan. While the majority of these contractors are not armed, a sizable number carry weapons, and their ranks are swelling. A recent Defense Department census reports that as of June 30, armed DoD contractors in Afghanistan had increased by 20 percent from the first quarter of 2009.
With the exception of a few legislators, notably Representatives Henry Waxman and Jan Schakowsky, Congress has left the use of private military contractors largely unmonitored. But the recent disclosures of Blackwater’s covert activities may finally force Congress to take action. At the very least, the Obama administration should be required to disclose current and past federal contracts with all of Prince’s companies and affiliates, including those registered offshore.
Congress can take Schakowsky’s lead and ask the Obama administration why it is continuing to work with Blackwater. Schakowsky has called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to review all of the company’s existing contracts and not to award any new ones to its many affiliates. Congressional intelligence committees should also conduct a wide-ranging investigation into Blackwater’s involvement in the CIA assassination program. Were Blackwater operatives involved in actual killings? Who approved the company’s involvement? Was Congress notified? How high up the chain of command did the covert relationship with the company go? Was Blackwater active on US soil? What role, if any, did/does Blackwater play in secretly transporting prisoners?