In her 9-minute interview with Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan lobbed softball question after softball question, and when she did ask more difficult questions, she seemed to do all that she could to sugar-coat them. It got so bad that I had to remind myself that I was watching an investigative report by an award-winning TV newsmagazine, and not a PR video for Blackwater.
While the FBI's investigation into the Blackwater shooting deaths of 17 innocent Iraqis may be ongoing, there is already a damning case to be made. Neither the U.S. military nor Iraqi investigators have found any evidence of an attack on the Blackwater guards that justified their hail of bullets on innocent bystanders.
The Nisour Square incident is not the first involving Blackwater and the loss of innocent lives. According to Blackwater’s own incident reports, the security firm has been involved in at least 195 ‘escalation of force’ incidents in Iraq since 2005. In 80% of those cases, the company reports that its people fired first. Furthermore, the company acknowledges that (prior to the Sept. 16th incident) it was involved in 16 Iraqi civilian casualties and 162 incidents with property damage, primarily to Iraqi civilian vehicles.
Blackwater has also failed to properly vet and train its men. The company has terminated one out of seven workers for wrongful conduct, including wrongful conduct that has resulted in the loss of life. Last Christmas Eve, a drunken Blackwater worker shot and killed Raheem Khalif, an Iraqi assigned to the personal security detail of Iraqi vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi. Raheem was shot three times.
When questioned about this incident at a recent congressional hearing, Erik Prince shrugged “We can’t flog him.” Apparently not. Up until now, Blackwater and its men have not been subject to U.S. or Iraqi law.
At the end of the 60 Minutes segment, reporter Lara Logan rightly observes: “Many believe Blackwater just doesn’t value Iraqi life.” You think?! But then she closes her report with the following exchange, practically pleading with Mr. Prince to say the right thing.
60 Minutes: I know you said that the loss of innocent life is a tragedy. Do you regret it? (pause) Do you wish it never happened?Why is Lara Logan so afraid to ask hard questions about the wrongful deaths of innocent Iraqis, and to hold security contractors like Blackwater accountable for its failure to protect noncombatants during its operations?
Prince: Absolutely. But I wish there were no major insurgency in Iraq either. I regret that more. I regret the poor Iraqi family who’s trying to send their kids to school and worried about them getting blown up while they’re walking. Or a suicide bomber that blows up a market while the wife is getting groceries.
60 Minutes: People want to know from you, from Blackwater, that, that you wish those people had not been killed. That you wished innocent people didn’t have to die as a result of anything that you’re involved in.
Prince: It is, it is absolutely not our wish that any innocent civilians should ever die.
I can’t fault CBS overall because CBS Evening News with Katie Couric is among the few media outlets that bothered to feature an interview with one of the victims of the Sept. 16 Blackwater shootout. Here’s an excerpt of the report filed by CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer: Hassan Jabbar, a lawyer, was almost one of them, shot in the back as he tried to escape. Now - a month later - his body is healing, but his faith in America is broken. “They pretend it’s democracy,” he weeps. “But they’re killing people.”
CBS News also interviews two Americans who had formerly been under the protective services of Blackwater: Adam Hobson, who was working as a political aide in Baghdad in 2005, and Janessa Gans, a former U.S. official who served in Iraq from 2003 to 2005. Both Hobson and Gans agree that Blackwater’s “protection at any cost” approach undermines U.S. efforts in Iraq.
In a recent letter to the LA Times, Janessa Gans writes: “We would careen around corners, jump road dividers, reach speeds in excess of 100 mph and often cross over to the wrong side of the street, oncoming traffic be damned. I began to wonder whether my meetings, intended to further U.S. policy goals and improve the lives of Iraqis, were doing more harm than good ... how many enemies were we creating?”
Indeed, how many Mr. Prince?