Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Blackwater a Subsidiary of Bush Inc?

So says Scott Horton, a law professor with a specialty in international law and armed conflict and great contacts in Central Asia, in this article in Harpers. He notes that Blackwater has been building an impressive list of international clients in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars in American government contracts. First he points out that Blackwater has managed to build a stockpile of military-grade weaponry and ordinance with little oversight:

It may be a bit simplistic to call Blackwater a mercenary outfit, because its functions are more diverse, but its self-understanding is close to the plain English understanding of that term. That is, they sell their services to governments for money. Blackwater is an outfit of contract soldiers. And it has achieved something which would at earlier points in our history been unthinkable: it has assembled an enormous private army with modernized mechanized support, attack helicopters, aircraft and even the beginnings of a navy. And until very recently, all of this was occurring under the surface, with the full collaboration of the Bush Administration, and without the sort of Congressional oversight which occurs routinely with respect to the United States military.

And then he says that the Bush administration has been actively lobbying foreign governments on Blackwater’s behalf, urging them to use the company’s services:

The focus of Blackwater’s current business lies in a contract relationship with the United States, but perhaps sensing the limited potential of that market, Blackwater has developed a very substantial international clientele. I recently examined their relationships with two governments–Azerbaijan and Jordan. What struck me most about these relationships was how they were secured and developed. In both cases, local government officials described to me extensive marketing efforts on Blackwater’s behalf by seniormost officials of the Bush Administration, who pressured and cajoled the local officials to use Blackwater and offered substantial incentives in the process.

Blackwater’s relationship with the Bush Administration is curiously symbiotic. The Administration is a heavy consumer of Blackwater’s services. It actually involves itself in marketing Blackwater to others, as if Blackwater were a for-profit extension of the Administration. Maybe it is.

In concept, there is nothing wrong with the United States Government promoting U.S. contractors to foreign governments. In fact, it should do that. But proper decorum requires an element of detachment and independence that is lacking whenever Blackwater turns up.

One career State Department observer put it to me this way. “In Blackwater’s dealings with the Department,” he said, “I often find myself wondering who is the service provider and who is beneficiary of the services.” His point was simple: Blackwater exercised an unseen influence over the process of contracting and supervision; often the Government seems to be working for them.

He also makes the case that the DOJ and the State Department are in the process of smothering any real investigation into the September 16 shootings that have been called outright unprovoked murder by investigations by the Pentagon, the FBI and the Iraqi government:

And another place we may be witnessing this is the Justice Department’s supposed investigation of Blackwater. Count me among the hardened skeptics that any serious investigation is underway and that there is any prospect of prosecutorial action being taken. I just don’t believe it. My reasons? We are dealing with the most highly politicized Justice Department in American history. It wields law enforcement tools for partisan political purposes. Its perfect track record in ignoring crimes involving contractors in Iraq is a demonstration of that thesis. Those contractors are not entirely but substantially a handful of corporations with political connections at the top of the Administration, like Bechtel’s relationship with its former board member, Condoleezza Rice, or KBR’s relationship with its former CEO Dick Cheney. Blackwater’s ties are as deep, and in fact Blackwater continues to offer a ready escape pod for a number of figures bailing out of Team Bush in its last year. The governing rule at the Bush Justice Department is, as one loyal Bushie U.S. attorney down south likes to say, you don’t go after the “home team.” Blackwater belongs right at the core of the G.O.P.’s “home team.”

As James Risen and David Johnston reported in the New York Times on Wednesday, the Bush Justice and State Department recently gave a couple of private briefings on Capitol Hill–and at the Defense Department–with respect to the status of the investigation of the September 16, 2007 incidents involving Blackwater at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. After giving the usual disclaimers, the briefers went on to state that notwithstanding the FBI’s conclusion that the facts showed multiple homicides for which no viable defenses existed, at present the prospects that charges would be brought were slim. Why? Two reasons were advanced. First, they stated that Acting Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford had severe reservations about whether the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) would apply in a case like this, and in any event, it had never been applied this way. Second, they said that State Department investigators had granted limited immunity to those who gave statements and they were skeptical that they would be able to build a case than would not collapse under the weight of that grant of immunity.

I interviewed two persons who were present at those briefings and who requested that their names be withheld. Both had roughly the same reaction. I thought these people were supposed to be prosecutors. It sure didn’t sound that way to me. They sounded like criminal defense counsel arguing against bringing charges. But even more telling one added, “They seemed to be focused on the reaction from their audience. It was as if they were really engaged in an exercise trying to judge ‘if we walk away from this, what kind of blow-back are we going to get?'”

And that is just what I expect is driving the calculus at Justice right now. It’s not being driven by traditional prosecutorial calculus. It is being driven by a simple partisan political profit and loss estimation. How inspiring.

And this is the problem with having political appointees in charge of such investigations and oversight in general. Their jobs depend upon winning elections that are funded by the very people over whom they are supposed to exercise objective oversight. That conflict of interest easily moves their focus from the public good of citizens to the private good of their financial benefactors.

Does anyone really think it’s a coincidence that so many former government officials get high paying jobs as consultants, lobbyists or board members from the very industries they were hired to regulate and investigate while in office? This isn’t done just because that person has good contacts in government and can therefore be an effective lobbyist for the company in the future; it’s also done as a payoff for favors already rendered – administrative rules written in a manner designed to minimize disruption to their benefactors and maximize profit, investigations subtly undermined, evidence lost, emails erased, the transfer or firing of a particularly zealous investigator who actually thinks his job is to find the truth and punish violators. This goes on every day, folks. You scratch my back, I’ll shave yours.