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Did Blackwater Contractors Attempt to Hide Evidence of a Massacre in Iraq?

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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.

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