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Private security contractor Xe (formerly Blackwater USA) has fallen on hard times. Iraq has yanked its license, forcing Blackwater out of one of its former operations centers. Last December, five Blackwater employees were indicted on fourteen manslaughter charges and allegations they used automatic weapons in the commission of a crime. A sixth Blackwater agent pleaded guilty to two charges as part of an agreement to testify against his colleagues. Now the company faces more bad news. Bill Sizemore of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot reports that charges are being brought based on obstruction of justice:
Shortly after a 2007 shooting incident in a Baghdad traffic square that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, Blackwater contractors allegedly transferred a number of machine guns to another contractor who is now charged with trying to smuggle them out of Iraq. The Blackwater contractors wanted to dispose of the weapons before an investigation of the bloody incident began, according to two confidential government informants. John Houston, the contractor charged in the case, allegedly told one of the informants that after Blackwater “got into trouble,” the guards had to get rid of the firearms so they wouldn’t be caught with them…
Houston, a retired Special Forces soldier, is charged separately with trying to smuggle eight machine guns and a semi automatic pistol from Iraq into the United States. The indictment was handed down last week by a federal grand jury in Maryland.
Had this occurred in a domestic context in the United States, the criminal case would be fairly straightforward. Given that it happened in Iraq, however, and given the confusion that prevailed immediately after the events at Nisoor Square, establishing the charges is likely to prove far more complicated. But these developments serve to highlight the gross misconduct of the Justice Department in the immediate wake of the shocking events in Iraq. While the Defense and State Departments struggled over control of a probe, and the State Department took steps that put it firmly on the side of Blackwater in efforts to obstruct a criminal inquiry, the Justice Department did absolutely nothing—ultimately only stepping in after Congress and editorial boards around the country began to question its inaction openly. Jeremy Scahill, author of the bestselling corporate portrait Blackwater, calls this a “pretty explosive development.” It raises more questions not only about Blackwater’s conduct but also about the bona fides of the competing investigations completed by the various U.S. government agencies involved.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.
The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.
Average speed of Heinz ketchup, from the mouth of an upended bottle, in miles per year:
After studying the fall of 64,000 individual raindrops, scientists found that some small raindrops fall faster than they ought to.
The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”