Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Private Security In Iraq: Most Shooting Incidents Go Unreported

Most of the more than 100 private security companies in Iraq open fire far more frequently than has been publicly acknowledged and rarely report such incidents to U.S. or Iraqi authorities, according to U.S. officials and current and former private security company employees.
This according to Steve Fainaru in the Washington Post, who notes that Blackwater's chairman,
Erik Prince, told a congressional committee Tuesday that Blackwater guards opened fire on 195 occasions during more than 16,000 missions in Iraq since 2005.
But according to Fainaru,
two former Blackwater security guards said they believed employees fired more often than the company has disclosed. One, a former Blackwater guard who spent nearly three years in Iraq, said his 20-man team averaged "four or five" shootings a week, or several times the rate of 1.4 incidents a week reported by the company. The underreporting of shooting incidents was routine in Iraq, according to this former guard.
It doesn't take much in the way of math skills to understand these numbers. If a single team is involved in 4 or 5 shootings a week, how can a company that employs many such teams be involved in less than 2 shootings a week?
Tens of thousands of private security guards operate in Iraq under a multitude of contracts, each with its own regulations. Defense and State Department contracts require security companies to report all weapons discharges, but few comply fully, according to U.S. officials and security company employees. Two company officials familiar with the system estimated that as few as 15 percent of all shooting incidents are reported, although both cautioned that it was impossible to know exactly how many incidents go unreported.
Some companies don't report any incidents at all.
Out of nearly 30 security companies under Defense Department authority, only "a handful" have reported weapons discharges, said Maj. Kent Lightner of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who monitors shooting incidents involving security companies under military contracts.
And when any reports do come in, Maj. Lightner tends to take them at face value.
Lightner, the Army major who monitors shooting incidents, said he thought the number of reported incidents was in some ways insignificant. "Other than entertainment value, I don't see why I need to be all that worried about the number of incidents, as long as they were legitimate," he said. "If they were incidents of wrongdoing, then that's a different story."

Lightner said he usually accepted the company's version of events. "If they're reporting firing a weapon, and there's no wrongdoing, and they operated according to the law, then God bless 'em, drive on," he said. "If Aegis sends me a report and says, 'Bad guys shot at us, we shot back and dropped two of them,' I'm not going to investigate. I'm not going to worry about it, unless somebody comes back and says, 'Yeah, they dropped two children, or they dropped a woman.' "
So in other words, the reports that actually do get filed are taken as gospel truth unless specifically contradicted. And who writes the reports?

Yesterday CNN had an item on the immediate bureaucratic aftermath of the September 16 shooting incident in Baghdad, which has led to the current media interest in the mercenaries (which they call "private security contractors") operating in Iraq, and Blackwater in particular. And guess who's been writing reports for the State Department? (This is just like the math we discussed earlier: not too difficult!)
The State Department's initial report of last month's incident in which Blackwater guards were accused of killing Iraqi civilians was written by a Blackwater contractor working in the embassy security detail, according to government and industry sources.

A source involved in diplomatic security at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said a Blackwater contractor, Darren Hanner, drafted the two-page "spot report" on the letterhead of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for the embassy's Tactical Operations Center.

That office -- which tracks and monitors all incidents and movements involving diplomatic security missions -- has outsourced positions to Blackwater and another private firm, the embassy source said.
As CNN notes,
the deadly incident produced an outcry in Iraq and raised questions about the accountability of foreign security contractors in Iraq, who, under an order laid down by the U.S.-led occupation government, are not subject to Iraqi law for actions taken within their contracts.
The broken chain of reporting and the total lack of legal accountability are troubling in and of themselves, of course, but far more troubling are the actions that are not being reported.

We turn back to Steve Fainaru in the Washington Post for one example:
David Horner, who worked for Crescent Security Group, a company based in Kuwait City, said that after being attacked with a roadside bomb in a town north of Baghdad, Crescent employees fired their automatic weapons preemptively whenever they passed through the town.

"I know that I personally never saw anyone shoot at us, but we blazed through that town all the time," said Horner, 55, a truck driver from Visalia, Calif. "Personally I did not take aim at one person. But I don't know what everybody else did. We'd come back at the end of the day, and a lot of times we were out of ammo."

Horner said he did not believe any of the incidents were reported to the military. He said he quit after one of Crescent's Iraqi employees fired a belt-fed PK machine gun from the bed of Horner's truck and hit what appeared to be two members of the Iraqi National Guard.

"I was like, 'Oh man, we shot some of our own guys,' " Horner said. He said he consulted with the Crescent team leader as the two Iraqis writhed in pain, one shot in the legs, the other with "a bullet or two in his shoulder." Soldiers from a nearby Iraqi army checkpoint were approaching to investigate.

"Let's get the [expletive] out of here," Horner quoted the team leader as saying before the Crescent team drove off.

"That was my last mission," Horner said. "I wasn't over there to wreck somebody's life. There was too much cowboying going on. I really didn't know if we had made things worse over there. More than likely we did; that was my feeling."
More than likely, yeah. Made things worse, yeah. That's my feeling, too.

You can read the whole Washington Post piece here: Guards in Iraq Cite Frequent Shootings.

The CNN report is here: Blackwater contractor wrote government report on incident.