By Muriel Kane
Journalist Jeremy Scahill, who earlier this week revealed charges by two former employees of security contractor Blackwater (now Xe) that range from murder to providing child prostitutes for its employees in Iraq, is now taking aim at the US government’s continued use of Blackwater’s services.
The State Department announced last January that it would not be renewing Blackwater’s contract for security services in Iraq when it expired in May. According to Scahill’s latest article in The Nation, however, the Obama administration has just extended the contract through September 3. A State Department official explained, “They are still there, but we are transitioning them out.”
Although it does not include the most recent figures, fedspending.org provides information on Blackwater contracts through the first few months of 2008. It shows the firm receiving an astonishing total of $1.2 billion for fiscal years 2005, 2006, and 2007 alone.
The Washington Post suggested in January, “Some critics attribute Blackwater’s success to the political connections of owner Erik Prince, a big contributor to conservative and Christian causes. As the Post reported, in 2007, Prince ‘was a White House intern under President George H.W. Bush. His political donations over the past two decades total almost $263,000 to Pat Buchanan, Oliver North, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and former senator Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, among others. His sister, Betsy DeVos, is former chairwoman of the Republican party in Michigan.’”
Records reviewed by The Nation show that the State Department has contracted with Blackwater for some $200 million since January, much of it representing a continuation of Bush-era contracts. Other Bush-era contracts have been extended by the Army, despite the growing number of serious allegations and lawsuits against the firm.
Some members of Congress have called for all such contracts to be cancelled. On Thursday, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) wrote to both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asking for a review of the Blackwater contracts. The letter to Clinton reads in part, “I believe that the behavior of Xe, its leadership, and many of its employees, puts our government and military personnel, as well as our military and diplomatic objectives, at serious risk.”