Blackwater accused of trying to buy its way out of accountability

November 12, 2009

On November 11th, 2009, the New York Times reported that in December 2007, top executives at Blackwater (currently known as Xe) authorized cash payments up to $1 million to Iraqi officials with the intent to buy silence and support from the Iraqi government over the Nisour Square shootings on September 16th, 2007, in which 17 Iraqis were shot and killed by Blackwater guards. The Times received this information from four anonymous former Blackwater executives. Two participated in talks about the payments and the other two had heard about the payments from other Blackwater officials. According to the executives, the payoffs were approved by then-company president, Gary Jackson. The money was sent to a top manager in Iraq and one executive stated that the intended recipients were officials in the Iraqi Interior Ministry in charge of operating licenses.

After the Nisour Square shootings, Blackwater came under plenty of heat from media and the Iraqi government, which wanted the contractor out of Iraq. For Blackwater, getting booted from Iraq meant potentially losing lucrative Department of State (DOS) contracts.

The four executives do not know if the bribes ever reached their intended recipients and it is unclear if a federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating the matter. If it is found that Blackwater bribed Iraqi officials, those responsible could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice and violation of the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which prohibits bribes to foreign officials.

Blackwater seems to be synonymous with “bad news” but perhaps the worst news is that the company – despite a growing list of human rights violations and various misdeeds – is not being held to account but rather is still winning new contracts with the U.S. Government. Perhaps what makes Blackwater and other private military and security companies (PMSCs) so bold and reckless is the culture of impunity in which they operate. The U.S. Government did not create mechanisms of accountability and regulation to keep up with the booming industry. But this is one area of corporate accountability with a clear record – the FCPA is a proven tool leaving no excuse for prosecutors to turn the other cheek. All that needs to be done is for the relevant U.S. attorneys to investigate.