Blackwater Firings Detailed in Report
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
There is a new and damning report from the House of Representatives today about Blackwater USA. Blackwater is one of the largest security firms involved in Iraq. The report was prepared by Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and it finds that more 100 Blackwater security personnel have been fired for misusing their weapons, violent behavior and substance abuse problems. The report comes after a deadly shooting spree involving Blackwater personnel last month that killed at least 11 Iraqi civilians. And now, the FBI is sending its own team to Iraq to investigate that incident.
NPR's Jackie Northam joins me now. Why is the FBI going to do that?
JACKIE NORTHAM: Well, the FBI says that it's going over to Iraq at the request of the State Department. And what it plans to do is examine any of the evidence from the September 16th shooting, and it may also pursue any possible criminal charges in that incident.
SIEGEL: Judging from the congressional report, the September 16th incident was not a one-off affair but, in fact, Blackwater has been involved in several shooting incidents in Iraq over the past few years.
NORTHAM: That's right. This report says that since 2005, Blackwater has been involved in at least 195 incidents where weapons were fired. And the report actually gives some context that as well. It says that in over 80 percent of those shootings, it was Blackwater personnel who fired first despite the fact that Blackwater's contract specifically says that it can only engage in defensive use of force to protect State Department officials, not offensive.
And the report also goes on to say that in the vast majority of these 195 shooting incidents, Blackwater is firing from a moving vehicle, and it doesn't wait to see if there have been any casualties at all.
SIEGEL: Now, what are the sources for this congressional committee report on Blackwater?
NORTHAM: Well, much of the information comes from Blackwater itself. Incidence reports that the company has compiled and internal reports, and also documents provided by the State Department. The House Oversight Committee has been investigating Blackwater activities since the beginning of this year, but these documents are just coming forward now. And there's a lot of reports that haven't made public before and that includes one incident where Blackwater forces shot an Iraqi civilian bystander in the head.
SIEGEL: Hmm. And what has Blackwater said about this today, if anything?
NORTHAM: Not very much. In fact, nothing at all at this point. However, tomorrow that could all change because the founder, Erik Prince, is due to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He plays a very low-key role. He stays in the background. But he is being called to testify tomorrow. It was initially about the September 16th incident where 11 Iraqi civilians apparently died. But now, obviously, with these other information that's coming out, he'll probably be asked about that as well.
SIEGEL: Now, Jackie, that number of Blackwater employees who have been fired in Iraq, it's over a hundred. How many and how (unintelligible) in the share is that of the number of people that Blackwater employs there?
NORTHAM: Well, the report by the House Oversight Committee says that there's 122 people that have been fired. The bulk of them are weapons-related incidents and substance abuse violations, and also inappropriate or lewd conduct. But that actually comes to one-seventh of the workforce. The Blackwater workforce that is in Iraq there's over 800 people there. So it's quite a large number - 122
SIEGEL: One might either cite that as a measure of how bad things are or of the degree of discipline that's being brought to bear about Blackwater.
NORTHAM: Yes, that's right. It could be seen as an oversight, you know, by -Blackwater does have some sort of oversight and are getting rid of the bad apples.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Jackie.
NORTHAM: Thank you.
SIEGEL: It's NPR's Jackie Northam.
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