Saturday, August 8, 2009

No Change Where it is Needed

Blackwater left such a black mark on the reputation of the United States that even its owner, Erik Prince had to acknowledge it. Unfortunately, that acknowledgement did not go much further than a rebranding effort, which did little more than change the name from "Blackwater" to "Xe." Admittedly, this dispensed with the "black" metaphor, replacing it with utter confusion. I suppose the message was that what you don't know can't hurt you.

Fortunately, name-changing was not enough to throw Jeremy Scahill off the scent of his investigations, which have involved nefarious practices by the organization (whatever its name may be) and questionable relations with the United States Government, regardless of who is President. That's right, Xe is apparently off limits when it comes to that "change we can believe in" litany. Here is how Scahill has reported the current state of play in his latest story for The Nation:

Just days before two former Blackwater employees alleged in sworn statements filed in federal court that the company's owner, Erik Prince, "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," the Obama administration extended a contract with Blackwater for more than $20 million for "security services" in Iraq, according to federal contract data obtained by The Nation. The State Department contract is scheduled to run through September 3. In May, the State Department announced it was not renewing Blackwater's Iraq contract, and the Iraqi government has refused to issue the company an operating license.

"They are still there, but we are transitioning them out," a State Department official told The Nation. According to the State Department, the $20 million represents an increase on an aviation contract that predates the Obama administration.
Despite its scandal-plagued track record, Blackwater (which has rebranded itself as Xe) continues to have a presence in Iraq, trains Afghan forces on US contracts and provides government-funded training for military and law enforcement inside the United States. The company is also actively bidding on other government contracts, including in Afghanistan, where the number of private contractors is swelling. According to federal contracting records reviewed by The Nation, since President Barack Obama took office in January the State Department has contracted with Blackwater for more than $174 million in "security services" alone in Iraq and Afghanistan and tens of millions more in "aviation services." Much of this money stems from existing contracts from the Bush era that have been continued by the Obama administration. While Obama certainly inherited a mess when it came to Blackwater's entrenchment in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has continued the widespread use of armed private contractors in both countries. Blackwater's role may be slowly shrinking, but its work is continuing through companies such as DynCorp and Triple Canopy.

Can we really anticipate change down the line, or will the status quo rule again? The full text of Scahill's account is as long as it is disconcerting. I doubt that the Obama Administration will be doing much to help us awaken from this particular nightmare.

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