Dan Kenney, Raymond Lutz and Christian Stalberg, coordinators for the United States non-governmental organizations (NGOs) No Private Armies, Citizens’ Oversight Projects Committee and Blackwater/Xe Watch, respectively, have joined US Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (Democrat-Illinois), of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to voice the opinion of Americans who are against the illegal activities of private security contractors.
In an open letter to the US Congress, the three NGOs demanded that Schakowsky’s “Stop Outsourcing Security Act” (known as House Resolution 4102 in the 110th Congress) be reintroduced and swiftly enacted. The Act takes issue with the fact that “the United States is increasingly relying on private security contractors,” one quarter of whom “are third-party nationals.”
“These contractors operate at cross-purposes with our larger mission and undermine the mission, jeopardizing the safety of American troops,” reads the letter, which goes on to elaborate that: “Events such as the Nisour Square massacre have negatively affected the relationship of our country with other countries in those areas; security contracts suffer from inadequate oversight; Congress does not even have access to security contracts; and the use of private security contractors for mission critical functions should be phased out.”
Jan Schakowsky joins Rep. Henry Waxman who, in August of 2008 as chair of the House Oversight and Government reform Committee, called on then presidential candidate Barack Obama to cancel Blackwater’s contracts if elected. “I don’t see any reason to have a contract with Blackwater. They haven’t lived up to their contract, and we shouldn’t be having these private military contracts. We should use our own military,” Waxman was quoted in the letter according to which, Hillary Clinton also said that Blackwater contracts should be canceled.
However, various reports speculate that a one-billion dollar US State Department contract to train the Afghan national police force could go to Blackwater, which changed its business name to Xe Services LLC after negative press, following the alleged slaughter of Iraqi civilians in September 2007.
Blackwater/Xe confirmed in January that it had reached out-of-court settlements in seven lawsuits filed in the 2007 shooting in Nisoor Square, that killed 17 Iraqis, as well as a string of other incidents in which company guards are alleged to have killed or injured Iraqis. Although the petitioners of the 45 injured people and the families of 19 slain Iraqis signed settlement agreements, according to court documents, Fawzia Sharif, 53, whose husband, Ali Khalil, was among those killed at Nisoor Square, told the Los Angeles Times that three Iraqi lawyers and one American attorney persuaded her to accept the settlement.
“At the beginning I refused,” Sharif said. “They spent three hours sitting with us and beseeching us to sign. They planted despair in our hearts, saying they [Blackwater/Xe] are going to announce bankruptcy and the government is going to confiscate all their assets, and you will not get any amount at all if you do not sign, …and this was my last chance. But now I wonder, how could this happen to such a big company?”
The open letter states, “According to Scott Horton, international law expert and contributor to Harper’s, one Congressman who was present at early briefings of the case held on Capitol Hill said the Justice Department prosecutors assigned to the case were behaving like defense lawyers building a case to defend the Blackwater employees, not prosecute them.” It also demands an investigation into what it calls “prosecutorial misconduct of U.S. Attorney Kenneth Kohl and the trial team.” US District Judge Ricardo Urbina recently dropped all the charges in the case against Blackwater/Xe, censuring the prosecution for ‘mishandling’ the evidence. “Judge Urbina’s decision describes in detail the many times the investigators and prosecutors seemed determined to sabotage the case from the beginning,” states the letter to Congress, which continues by insisting, “If the U.S. cannot, for the technical reasons set forth in the ruling, prosecute the case, the U.S. is required to waive the immunity and surrender these individuals to the Iraqi authorities for prosecution. Congress should ensure that our Government satisfies all of our international obligations as they pertain to this case.”
The letter concludes: “The safety of our soldiers and our citizens, as well as citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan, can no longer be put into risk by the careless actions of hired military and security companies like Blackwater. Legal loopholes that provide immunity for all contractors, regardless of how murderous their actions may be, continue the pattern of inadequate accountability. We ask you how much longer will you allow those whom we fund to get away with murder in our name?”