Thursday, March 4, 2010
U.S. government starts making sense on Blackwater
Why it took a change in administrations in Washington to get top congressional officials to start thinking again is a little hard to understand, yet there we are. We're discussing, of course, letters sent to top Obama administration officials by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a fellow Democrat, asking whether controversial military contractor Xe Services, the former Blackwater Worldwide, should be barred from bidding on future Iraq contracts, according to the Washington Post. Blackwater, you recall, is the Myock, N.C., company that has been paid billions of dollars over the past 7 years to provide support services for U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. But several well-publicized shooting incidents in Baghdad, including one that resulted in the deaths of 17 civilians, made the company the object of scorn in Iraq and nearly brought down the newly restored Iraqi government. So, wouldn't you expect past performance to be at least one major factor in the selection of bidders for a new $1 billion contract to train a new national police force in Afghanistan? That's the context in which Levin (D-Michigan) wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only Bush administration holdover in new President Barack Obama's cabinet. "The inadequacies in Blackwater's performance appear to have contributed to a shooting incident that has undermined our mission in Afghanistan," Levin told the Post in an e-mailed statement. It's been a long time since we've heard U.S. officials speak so honestly about the company. Last May's incident, in which two Blackwater contractors allegedly killed two Afghani civilians and wounded a third, damaged relations between the local population and U.S. forces. The military sees strong relations between troops and Afghani citizens as vital for securing the country and putting down a stubborn al-Qaida insurgency. A Xe Services spokesman said Levin's query was appropriate and welcome. "We are confident that Xe's record of service in training thousands of security personnel in Afghanistan demonstrates the company's strong record of supporting critical U.S. government initiatives in Afghanistan, which are essential in advancing the United States national interest," said the spokesman, Mark Corallo, in an e-mailed statement. The Pentagon's Bryan Whitman said there was no effort within the military to ban Xe Services, as far as he knew, and it would be legally allowed to submit a bid on the Afghanistan contract. Levin's second letter, to Attorney General Eric Holder, called for an investigation into whether Blackwater tricked the Army into awarded it a separate $25 million contract to train police in Afghanistan by creating a shell company named Paravant. Corallo said military officials knew Paravant was a Blackwater subsidiary when the contract was awarded.