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Hot Seat for Blackwater

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Hot Seat for Blackwater

Hot Seat for Blackwater

Hot Seat for Blackwater

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The top executive for Blackwater USA testified before a House oversight committee about its operations in Iraq. Guards from the private security firm were part of a fatal shooting there last month.

RACHEL MARTIN: I just love that laugh. Good morning, everyone.

The Blackwater security firm scandal focused sharply on one man yesterday, the company's chief executive, Erik Prince. Thirty-eight-year old Prince, a former Navy SEAL, testified yesterday before the House Oversight Committee about Blackwater's operations in Iraq.

Blackwater guards were part of a fatal shooting a couple of weeks ago, where at least 17 Iraqi were killed, spurring allegations that Blackwater's agents operate with a cavalier, cowboy mentality with no regard for civilian life. Prince insisted time and time again during his four-hour testimony, that's just not true. But it didn't wash with many members of the committee, like Danny Davis, a Democrat from Illinois who grilled Prince during the hearing.

Representative DANNY DAVIS (Democrat, Illinois): You do admit that Blackwater personnel have shot and killed innocent civilians, don't you?

Mr. ERIK PRINCE (Founder, Blackwater USA): No, sir. I disagree with that. I think there's been times when guys are using defensive force to protect themselves, to protect the pack and just trying to get away from danger. There could be ricochets. There are traffic accidents. Yes, this is war.

MARTIN: Prince went on to dismiss allegations that Blackwater operates like a mercenary army, and said his men were acting in self-defense in the September 16th shooting. The FBI, the U.S. State Department and the Iraqi government are currently investigating the incident.

And President Bush is set to veto a bipartisan children's health bill today. It'll be only the fourth time Bush has used his presidential veto, but some Republicans fear this one could carry steep risks for their party in next year's elections.

The State Children's Health Insurance Program is a joint state and federal effort that would subsidize health coverage for 6.6 million people. They'd be mostly children from families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford their own private coverage. The president says the bill is far too expensive. He says it strayed too far from its original intent of helping the poor, and it would entice people to switch to government coverage when they can afford private insurance. White House aides say the veto will happen behind close doors with no press coverage.

And a high-profile music downloading trial got underway yesterday in Minnesota. Jenny Thomas, a 30-year-old mother of two, has been accused of illegally downloading tunes online in 2005. It's the first time such a case has gone to trial because most defendants have settled out of court by paying a few thousand dollars. But Thomas has denied the charges, and yesterday her attorney suggested that someone else could have downloaded the music using Thomas's Internet connection.

Prosecutors showed the jury massive amounts of data linking Thomas to the downloads, and they say she replaced her hard drive in 2005 to cover her tracks. Testimony in the trial continues today.

I'm Rachel Martin. The news is always online at npr.org.

Alison and Luke, back to you.

LUKE BURBANK, host:

Thank you so much, Rachel.

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