November 1, 2007  

To the State Department

For its belated and hypocritical attempt to apply proper oversight of private security contractors. The public brouhaha stirred by the September Blackwater shootings in Iraq was a wake-up call for companies that provide security services, certainly. More pointedly, it exposed State’s laissez-faire relationship with its hired guns.

A memorandum circulated to members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ahead of its October hearing on private military contractor activity in Iraq and Afghanistan raised serious questions about State’s handling of previous incidents involving Blackwater contractors. It showed that the State Department charges d’affaires recommended only that Blackwater make a “sizeable payment” to the family of an Iraqi guard killed by a drunken Blackwater contractor in December 2006. A State official wrote: “We would like to help them resolve this so we can continue with our protective mission.” In another incident in which an Iraqi was killed, State similarly requested a payment be made so it could “put this unfortunate matter behind us quickly.”

Eagerness to sweep such incidents under the rug without proper investigation or follow-up makes Secretary Condoleezza Rice’s call for a “360-degree, unvarnished” probe following the Sept. 16 shootings ring spectacularly insincere. State, it seems, has shifted from shielding its PMC guardians to protecting itself.