Why Doesn’t Hillary Clinton Fire Blackwater?

As a candidate for president, Hillary Clinton pledged to ban Blackwater. In February 2008, she announced that she would sign on as the co-sponsor of a little-known bill put forward in the House by Representative Jan Schakowsky and in the Senate by Bernie Sanders. The Stop Outsourcing Security, or SOS Act, sought to end the use of armed mercenaries in US war zones. Clinton became the only other senator to sign on to the bill and the most important political figure in the US to call for such a ban on "Blackwater and other private mercenary firms in Iraq."

"These private security contractors have been reckless and have compromised our mission in Iraq," Clinton said in a February 28, 2008 statement on the campaign trail. "The time to show these contractors the door is long past due.  We need to stop filling the coffers of contractors in Iraq, and make sure that armed personnel in Iraq are fully accountable to the U.S. government and follow the chain of command."

As Secretary of State, Clinton now presides over a diplomatic security force in Iraq that for the "indefinite" future will include Blackwater. ABC News’s "The Blotter" is reporting that Blackwater (which now does business as Xe Services and US Training Center) will continue to be the State Department’s aviation contractor in Iraq, despite a supposed Iraqi ban on the company. "We unilaterally extended the current task order … to ensure the continued security and safety of U.S. personnel in Iraq," a State Department official said. As I reported in The Nation weeks ago, Blackwater operatives, according to the State Department, "are permitted to continue carrying weapons" in Iraq for the foreseeable future on that contract. On July 31, the Obama administration extended Blackwater’s Iraq contract, increasing Blackwater’s payment by $20 million and bringing the total paid by the State Department to Blackwater for its "aviation services" in Iraq to $187 million.

Meanwhile, according to federal contract data, on August 13, Blackwater was paid another $23 million on a $156 million "security" contract in Afghanistan with the US State Department. That is in addition to Blackwater’s contracts with the Department of Defense and its ongoing work for the CIA as part of its drone bombing raids in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

US government contractors have had their contracts cancelled for far less than the crimes Blackwater is alleged to have committed. See the recent moves involving the Rendon Group, which prepared dossiers on journalists, for instance.

The recently disclosed insane misconduct by US contractors happening at the American embassy in Kabul, brought to light by the Project on Government Oversight, should keep Secretary Clinton busy for some time regarding the issue of contractor oversight.

But here are some questions for Secretary Clinton about Blackwater: Why do you continue to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to a company whose operatives have been indicted for manslaughter of Iraqi civilians; that is under investigation for arms smuggling and other possible crimes; that has been implicated in the CIA assassination program allegedly withheld from Congress; that is owned by a man, Erik Prince, whom a former employee says "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe?" Moreover, why are you using a company you pledged to ban now that you actually have the power to ban them? If you thought in February of 2008 that the "time to show these contractors the door is long past due," what time is it now?

Author: Jeremy Scahill

Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill is author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine and a correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now! He is currently a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at The Nation Institute.