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It billed itself as the nation’s premier private security contractor, but now Blackwater Worldwide (redubbed Xe Services) faces cascading legal worries that reach into its executive offices. James Risen and Mark Mazzetti at the New York Times report:
Federal prosecutors charged the former president of Blackwater Worldwide and four other former senior company officials on Friday with weapons violations and making false statements in the first criminal inquiry to reach into the top management ranks of the private security company. The executives were some of the closest advisers to Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, and helped him steer the company during its swift rise to become the leading contractor providing security for American diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan, working for the State Department, the C.I.A. and the Pentagon…
While the indictment is somewhat limited in scope, it could be the government’s opening salvo in a broader offensive to bring criminal charges against the company. They could include charges for bribery and export violations, according to officials familiar with the case, perhaps under a strategy of turning former and current executives of the company against one another. A federal grand jury in Raleigh, N.C., issued the 15-count indictment against Gary Jackson, Blackwater’s former president; William Matthews, the former executive vice president; Andrew Howell, the former general counsel; Ana Bundy, a former vice president; and Ronald Slezak, a former weapons manager, charging that they conspired to skirt federal weapons laws and then tried to hide their actions.
The North Carolina federal grand jury investigation is just one of a substantial number of criminal probes affecting the company. The one with the highest profile relates to the death of seventeen Iraqis at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square in September 2007. And today the Associated Press is reporting that prosecutors are close to a final decision about charges arising from another incident, in which Blackwater employees killed civilians in Afghanistan:
Two former Blackwater contractors charged in the shooting deaths of two Afghans may soon learn whether they will face the death penalty. The federal government is expected to disclose its decision at a hearing Monday in Norfolk. Life in prison is another possibility if Chris Drotleff of Virginia Beach and Justin Cannon of Corpus Christi, Texas, are convicted. The men are charged with second-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons charges.
Meanwhile, senior military figures are becoming increasingly outspoken in their criticism of the Defense Department’s heavy reliance on contractors. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, offered a critique in a recent interview in France:
“I think we’ve gone too far,” McChrystal said at France’s IHEDN military institute. “I actually think we would be better to reduce the number of contractors involved.” Alternatives could include increasing the number of troops “if necessary,” or “using a greater number of Afghan contractors, or Afghans to help with the mission,” he said. McChrystal said the use of contractors was founded upon “good intentions,” such as to limit military commitments or to save money for governments. “I think it doesn’t save money,” he said. “We have created in ourselves a dependency on contractors that I think is greater than it ought to be.” He didn’t specify where any cuts might come.
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.
Number of Turkish college students detained in the last year for requesting Kurdish-language classes:
Turkey was funding a search for Suleiman the Magnificent’s heart.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
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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.'”