Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Whither the Blackwater Corp...

BlackwaterUSA is a name that seems to be everywhere lately.

For those of you unaware of it's existence, I'm not surprised. It's a shadowy group of mercenaries, mostly ex-soldiers, that operate in a variety of paramilitary capacities as federal contractors. They've been used as security guards to protect Paul Bremer when he was head of the Regional Coalition Authority in Iraq. They've also turned up among the foot soldiers there, and most famously, in the helicopter crash that caused the first loss of American lives after our invasion of that country.

Oddly, the firm was also hired to provide it's special brand of thuggish, gun-toting security to prevent looting in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, charging the federal government over $200,000 a day to protect the city's closed businesses.

Wouldn't it have been cheaper to pass out provisions to the desperate citizenry? And what was Blackwater, a paramilitary organization not trained in crowd control and diplomacy, planning to do...shoot those people taking the loaves of bread from the closed Safeway?

Blackwater is more than disturbing to me. It operates in a kind of reverse Catch 22 with regard to government oversight. They claim to not be subject to the military legal system, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, because they're a private firm, not an arm of the military. But they also claim to be immune from the civilian legal system because they're operating in a secret military capacity.

Rep. Henry Waxman has been trying to gather information on Blackwater since 2004 for a Congressional inquiry, and so far has been unable to get much cooperation from the company. The inquiry stems from a lawsuit brought by the families of the Blackwater soldiers killed in the initial helicopter crash in Iraq. The Blackwater employees were ostensibly hired as security guards, not combat soldiers. Inquiries by the families about why their loved ones were in a combat helicopter have thus far been met with silence by Blackwater officials, citing security reasons.

When the families eventually brought suit against Blackwater for violating the employees contracted obligations, Blackwater counter sued the families, stating that their employees sign statements promising not to sue in the event of their deaths. The families contend that, because the employment contract was violated by Blackwater, the statement is void.

Enter Rep. Waxman, who initially began investigations of Blackwater at the behest of the families, and subsequently was driven by the odd lack of oversight that allows this company to operate within the federal government, seemingly with impunity. His question, rightly, is to whom is this organization accountable? If not to the military court system, nor the civilian authorities...then who?

Blackwater's Board of Directors include a number of current and former White House staffers and consultants who might be anxious to obscure a paper trail that leads back to the Bush Administration.

Blackwater's legal team also comes from the top tier of Republican operatives, including chief Whitewater investigator Kenneth Starr, and White House lead counsel Fred Fielding. They've been aggressively pursuing the counter suit against the Blackwater families as a way to continue to operate their corporation in secrecy.

This looks like another Iran/Contra type story to me. It's so tangled up in the machinations of the White House secrecy machine that it doesn't make for a sexy read, and the press has mostly ignored it. However, we probably ought to stop ignoring it, and pay some some attention to the more distasteful facts:

1. Our government is funding an organization of mercenary soldiers who operate without oversight all over the world.

2. The families of contractors who died in the employment of Blackwater are being stonewalled, harassed and sued for asking specific questions about the deaths of their loved ones.

3. The congressional committee charged with investigating this federal contractor is unable to get any information or cooperation as to it's activities under government contract from it's officers or board of directors.

4. In the tradition of Haliburton, KBR, and other corporate friends of this Administration, Blackwater has received a number of lucrative no-bit federal contracts that have subsequently been found to be inflated, and could be better performed by federal and military organizations with existing procedures for oversight and accountability.

I'll be watching this story play out in the coming years. I have no doubt that it's even uglier than it currently looks.

Secret paramilitary organizations that report to unknown Administration officials sounds like the plot of a John LeCarrè Cold War spy novel, but it's proving to be just another day at the office for the Bush Team.


Kwach said...

Yesterday we were given the timetable for the implementation of our new paperless medical office computer system. On the surface, it sounds like a sweet deal. No more lost charts, no more seeing a patient in the Illinois office and having to have their chart notes faxed from the one in Missouri. No more struggling to read doctor's scrawl.

It's being presented as a better system for protecting patient privacy (no charts lying around), more securely protected records (the building can burn down and we won't lose a thing), and of course it's a money-saver (no more paper).

Then they mentioned that one of the reasons to do this now is that Medicare is moving toward making electronic medical records a requirement for all physicians. Although they won't pay diddly shit to reimburse for surgery or medical care, they're paying a reimbursement directly to medical facilities to encourage them to implement electronic record-keeping and transfer of those records directly to Medicare so they can build a nationwide database containing ... well ... every record of every medical even Jane Doe has ever been treated for by any doctor she's ever seen anywhere in the country.

Gee, imagine being able to run a search on the American citizens based on a parameter like "AIDS test" or "sickle cell"

The possibilites are mind-boggling.

Open the pod bay door, Hal.

I'm sorry, Dave. I can't do that.


Anonymous said...

It's all about accountability, man. At least for us little guys - here in Indiana they've resorted to managed care for chronically mentally ill adults and kids. This means that every four visits you have to get down on bended knee to ask for more. Oh! And the other problem is that you have to document how they've gotten worse! Duh! If they're getting services, they're probably maintaining or maybe getting even a bit better - yank the services and they go downhill fast. We too have to enter stuff into computers that bill directly to Medicaid and/or Medicare. It's way fun - and a good way to save money for the war effort! Our favorite gov'mnt saying around here is "The check's in the mail, and I won't come in your mouth." Robin