Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Exclusive: Blackwater 'not Boy Scouts of America'

Having got its teeth into Blackwater, the New York Times shows no signs of letting go, having clearly decided that the alleged misadventures of the private security company in Iraq currently offer the best opportunity for undermining the American war effort there.

Despite its best efforts, however, the Times has conspicuously failed to build a case against Blackwater, and PSCs in general, as this post, and this response from an Infantry NCO with extensive service in Iraq, make clear (scroll down, or click the Blackwater label at below right, for related posts).

Undeterred, the Times has returned to the fray with another Blackwater-bashing piece today, based largely on a report by a congressional committee, and the introductory paragraph sets the tone nicely. It’s a perfect storm of violence, irresponsibility and heartlessness, and I take my hat off to the writers and editors who crafted it:

Employees of Blackwater USA have engaged in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, in a vast majority of cases firing their weapons from moving vehicles without stopping to count the dead or assist the wounded, according to a new report from Congress.

The sentence is, however, devoid of context and utterly misleading. We’ve already established that, while Blackwater has been involved in more shooting incidents than other PSCs, this is largely explained by fact that it operates in more dangerous areas, and protects higher-value officials. And as the Times acknowledges in today’s story, Blackwater has twice as many employees in Iraq as the two other main security contractors, DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, combined.

It’s unclear how many of the incidents involved nothing more than warning shots being fired, but it’s hardly surprising that Blackwater guards fired from moving vehicles in the majority of cases, given that they’re in the business of convoy protection. As for the bit about not stopping, perhaps Mother Teresa would have hung around in a hostile environment around to tend to the wounded, but then it’s unlikely that she would have fired a weapon from a moving vehicle in the first place.

That intro also implies that Blackwater convoys habitually leave a trail of dead and wounded in their wake, but gives no supporting evidence. In fact, leaving aside the recent tragic, and apparently exceptional shootings, in over two years of careering around Iraq firing at everything that moves, the Times suggests Blackwater employees have only managed to kill two people. There may have been others, but as the Times is pulling out all the stops in its efforts to demonise Blackwater, you would think it would mention them.

The Times is also desperate to create the impression that Blackwater and the State Department have been covering up the carnage left, right and centre. While some less-serious incidents may have been brushed under the carpet, in the two cases the Times mentions in which people were killed, there’s no suggestion of any attempt to conceal the truth. The relevant authorities were informed, investigations were carried out and compensation was paid to the victims’ families.

An official writing “I hope we can put this unfortunate matter behind us quickly” does not constitute a cover-up; indeed, its a phrase that’s probably been used on many occasions at the Times with regard to the various editorial scandals the paper has been embroiled in over the years. And the Times further undermines its ‘cover-up’ theory by revealing that Blackwater has dismissed employees for, among other things ‘failure to report incidents or lying about them, and publicly embarrassing the company’.

Predictably, the report also rehashes the now-familiar ‘cowboys’ leitmotif:

The report by the Democratic majority staff of a House committee adds weight to complaints from Iraqi officials, American military officers and Blackwater’s competitors that company guards have taken an aggressive, trigger-happy approach to their work and have repeatedly acted with reckless disregard for Iraqi life.

The Times obviously feels that it has established the ‘trigger-happy’ narrative to the extent that it doesn’t need to provide any quotes to support this claim, anonymous or otherwise. It remains a disgraceful and unsubstantiated slander. As for ‘aggressive’ – well, show me a passive former Navy SEAL and I’ll show you an SUV full of dead diplomats.

The Times at least breaks some new, albeit unremarkable, ground with the revelation that Blackwater employees (or ‘gunmen’, as the Times has taken to calling them) took part in offensive operations alongside uniformed American military personnel on two (two!) occasions “in violation of their State Department contract”.

Such behaviour could only appear ‘wrong’ to someone – say a New York Times editor – who can’t even begin to understand the military mind, and whose experience of combat is limited to squabbling over the last bagel in the vending machine.

What such people couldn’t possibly understand is that the ties between soldiers are rather more binding than a State Department contract. Most Blackwater guys are ex-special forces, and if they found themselves in a position where regular forces were under attack, and they had the training and equipment to assist, does anyone seriously imagine they wouldn’t do so, lest some Green Zone bureaucrat – or indeed the New York Times – take exception?

As I’ve said before, while the liability of PSCs, and the authority under which they operate, need to be clarified, the obsession of the Times and others with these companies is out of all proportion to the problem, and reflects their growing desperation to respond to the progress that’s being made in Iraq, and to which PSCs and their brave employees are contributing.

Once again the Times has produced an ostensibly sensational story that, on closer inspection, tells us little that’s new, and adds absolutely nothing to the wider debate over PSCs. Unfortunately for the paper, its own obsession with ‘accuracy’ and ‘record’ compels it to include details that either fail to stand up its claims, or completely contradicts them. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot – when it comes to Blackwater, the Times is doing a wonderful impression of a centipede with a minigun.


Anonymous said...

Typical. The facts speak for themselves: Blackwater USA has never failed to protect diplomats.



These are two sites I found should be good to go.

Mike said...

Anon – thanks for the links.