IRL News: World Made Safe for BlackwaterJanuary 2, 2010
You may have noticed that these “IRL News” posts tend to be about terrible, depressing things. That’s because, if these things were slightly less terrible, we’d find some way to joke about them in the magazine itself, but every so often we come across a news story that shows we’re already living in Bizarro World and comedy is redundant.
See, in September 2007, six Blackwater contractors opened fire on a traffic circle full of innocent Iraqi civilians, killing 17 and wounding more than 20. They fired from a circle of SUVs using machine guns and grenades. Two Blackwater helicopters flew in, and witnesses say one of the helicopters also fired at the crowd (Blackwater denies this). There were dozens of witnesses, including a traffic cop trained to give detailed accounts of traffic accidents, and one of the contractors, who pled guilty. Want to guess what happened to the five contractors who didn’t cop a plea? Their case was dismissed on December 31. Happy New Year!
The contractors say they had to shoot up a square full of civilians because they were being fired upon. None of the witnesses saw a terrorist shooting at the SUVs, but isn’t an invisible terrorist even scarier? It’s a moot question, since someone picked the whole square clean of bullets before investigators could arrive. Wow! If only American crime scenes lived up to that standard of janitorship. But why was the case dismissed, even though dozens of witnesses saw the shooting? Because the contractors incriminated themselves in the reports their jobs required them to give. They were “under threat of job loss,” so their Fifth Amendment rights were being violated. And since testimony works cooties, none of the other witnesses or pieces of evidence could be brought to bear.
Howard Krongard, the State Department Inspector General at the time, happened to have a brother on the board of Blackwater Worldwide. The Inspector General’s office was in charge of the investigation that gathered the tainted testimony. It would have required very little effort to deliberately ruin this case. Just tell the contractors, off the record, that they’re going to be fine, then have them make unusable statements to State Department investigators. There was means, motive and opportunity to screw up the investigation, and the result was exactly the same as if it had been done on purpose. But cheer up — maybe everybody involved was just grossly incompetent.
But the story has a happy ending: shortly after the shooting, the Iraqi government revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq. And the U.S. never heard from Blackwater again. Except that we still employ the company, since renamed “Xe Services,” in Afghanistan. And we still use extra-military, quasi-legal, accountable-to-no-one, armed-to-the-teeth goons in Iraq. And if the Iraq War ever ends, those guys will come back home. And live among us. Wait, did I say “happy”? I meant “I need a drink.”