Blackwater/Xe, the Company You Can't Get Rid of
by Gary Therkildsen*, 12/22/2009
Yesterday, Justin Elliot at Talking Points Memo published an interesting piece on the never-ending saga that is the government's relationship with the company formerly known as Blackwater. Despite the scandals, investigations and indictments that have recently plagued Xe – and the resultant loss of a license to operate in Iraq and the cancellation of several security contracts overseas – the company continues to perform work for the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon in Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to Elliot, during a Dec. 12 hearing held by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, Xe Vice President Fred Roitz told commission members that the company "has contracts for security as well as for training Afghan police and a 'drug interdiction unit,'" and is "in the running for more work in Afghanistan." That work, says Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent, would be the continuation of a security contract to protect State Department personnel. And despite losing their license to operate in Iraq due to the 2007 Nisour Square Massacre in Bagdad that left 17 civilians dead, Xe continues to provide airborne security in that country.
Critics of Blackwater/Xe claim this is a public relations nightmare for the U.S. effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, but an equally important issue that the government's continued use of security contractors like Blackwater/Xe, Triple Canopy and DynCorp raises is the proper role of contractors in theaters of war. While the U.S. government has used contractors in combat theaters since the American Revolution, the use of armed security contractors to guard embassies and shuttle diplomatic dignitaries around with authorization to use lethal force is a new phenomenon. Many within transparency/good-government circles would classify these duties as inherently governmental functions, which mean that no one other than government employees should perform them.
Unfortunately, as Jeremy Scahill argues, because the Obama administration relies on these security contractors to implement its Middle East policies, one shouldn't expect that clarification on inherently governmental functions anytime soon.
Image by Flickr user rjosef used under a Creative Commons license.