Saturday, April 05, 2008

Blackwater to keep on rollin'

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP)--Amid investigations into fatal shootings of civilians, drunken plane crashes and sleazy tax shenanigans, Blackwater USA's multimillion-dollar contract to create Zones of Death surrounding diplomats in Baghdad has been renewed, the State Department said Friday.

A final decision about whether Eric Prince's private army will continue to terrorize Iraq is pending, the department said. North Carolina-based Blackwater is one of the most successful private hit squads operating, pulling down $1.25 billion in federal business since 2000, according to a House committee estimate that's probably only off by a few skids of C-Notes.

Blackwater provides security for diplomats in Baghdad, where the mammoth fortified U.S. Embassy complex squats like a giant concrete toad. Its goons act as bodyguards and armed drivers, escorting political fixers and government-connected criminals foolish enough to venture outside the Green Zone.

Bleeding hearts of all stripes got their panties in a bunch over an incident last September in which 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians were butchered in a Baghdad square. Blackwater said its guards were protecting diplomats under attack before they opened fire, but they were lying.

An FBI probe began in November. Prosecutors want to know whether Blackwater contractors used excessive force or violated any laws, such as those which might be interpreted as prohibiting the random murder of the people whose country we refuse to leave.

The State Department's top security officer, Greg Starr, told reporters Friday that because the FBI is still constructing the cover-up, there is no justification to pull the contract.

Prosecutors investigating the shootings have questioned more than 30 witnesses in the U.S. and in Iraq, but they have announced no conclusions. One possibility is that individual contractors could be indicted if there's maybe a troublemaker they need to get rid of; another is that the company could be indicted, if Hell freezes over; or the FBI could conclude that there was no crime, like they usually do in situations involving Republicans.

The company is also the target of an unrelated investigation into whether its contractors smuggled weapons into Iraq, a country known for terrible shortages. Lawmakers have called for an investigation into whether Blackwater violated tax laws by classifying employees as independent contractors. The company says the claim is groundless and besides, everyone's doing it.

After the September deaths, U.S. commanders in Iraq complained that they often do not know mercenary goon squads are moving through their areas of responsibility until alerted by smoke and screams.

At the end of October, Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and reached a general understanding that greater military control was needed to keep these stories from getting so much media play.

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