A federal grand jury has added an additional indictment to a former Blackwater employee involved in the murders of two Afghan civilians in May of 2009, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
Two Blackwater guards have been charged with second-degree murder for the fatal shootings.
The Virginian-Pilot reports,
[Christopher] Drotleff, of Virginia Beach, and [Justin] Cannon, of Corpus Christi, Texas, were working for a subsidiary of Blackwater, also known as Xe, to train the Afghan police force in Kabul. The indictment alleges they were drinking that day when they became involved in a traffic accident and began firing their weapons at another car.
Drotleff and Cannon say they fired in self-defense, in fear for their lives, at a car that was speeding toward them. The government counters that the victims were all shot from behind.
The new indictment replaces a firearm charge against Cannon with use of a machine gun during the killings. The new charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison on conviction.
The two former Blackwater security workers were also charged with aiding and abetting each other in the murders of Rahib Mirza Mohammad and Romal Mohammad Naiem. A third civilian, Fareed Haji Ahamd, was wounded in the shooting.
Drotleff and Cannon will appear before the grand jury for trial on September 14.
A similar incident occurred in 2007, when five Blackwater security workers shot and killed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.
The five guards, who had been part of a convoy of armored vehicles, had been charged with killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians and wounding 18 others during an unprovoked attack at a busy Baghdad traffic circle using gunfire and grenades.
The men had faced firearms charges, and up to 10 years in jail on each of 14 manslaughter counts, but a judge dismissed the case.
In 2009 Blackwater Worldwide officially changed its name to Xe, in the midst of widespread negative publicity.
By John Byrne
Thursday, March 4th, 2010 — 9:43 am
Pentagon originally said Marine killed in combat
The Pentagon confirmed late Tuesday that it is investigating the death of a 24-year-old Indiana Marine after he was shot to death in Afghanistan, allegedly by several US-paid private security contractors.
The contractors, according to a fellow Marine in Afghanistan who communicated with an investigative reporter in Chicago, were Afghanis who were found with “copious amounts of opium” and had been paid by the United States as guards.
“He was killed by American Hired Local National Contractors that were high on opium the morning of the 19th,” the ABC reporter quotes a friend and fellow colleague of Lance Corporal Joshua Birchfield as saying in an email message.
Lance Corporal Joshua Birchfield was killed after being shot in the head Feb. 19. The Department of Defense originally reported that he died of “small arms fire” while in combat.
But the story is apparently darker and more complex — raising questions of whether the Pentagon originally concealed information about the Marine’s death.
The Chicago Marine who tipped off the ABC reporter purportedly wrote a detailed email surrounding the circumstances of Birchfield’s death. In it, he asserts that the young Marine was killed by Afghanis paid as private contractors.
“These men are armed to the teeth and supposedly here for our protection,” the fellow Marine is said to have emailed. “We have been shot at by the contractors on several cases before this incident. We have been told to refrain from returning fire and attempt to identify ourselves as Marines so they stop shooting.”
“They are also drug abusers,” he continued. “The shooter was found to have copious amounts of wet opium on him shortly after the shooting … we found a bag of wet opium in the compound that the contractors were using to get high.”
“A mix of drugs and gray areas of loyalty between U.S. forces and Taliban seems to be the motivation behind the shooting,” he added.
The Pentagon, announcing an investigation into the death on Wednesday, declined to say what exactly they were investigating.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told the Associated Press “the military is looking into the circumstances surrounding the Feb. 19 shooting of 24-year-old Lance Cpl. Joshua Birchfield of Westville. He declined further comment.”
“Maj. Carl Redding of the Marine Corps confirmed the investigation but referred additional questions to Marine Corps officials in Afghanistan,” the AP added.
Investigators reportedly found the private security guards with drugs and weapons and placed several under arrest.
ABC reporter Chuck Goudie wrote about Birchfield’s death in a column in the local newspaper The Daily Herald. Curiously, his column includes the caveat, “The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV.” WLS-TV is an ABC affiliate.
Goudies says Birchfield “was on a security patrol about a half-mile from a Marine forward operating base. About 7 a.m., as day broke, shots were fired at Birchfield’s patrol team, according to members of his unit. The ambush was by U.S.-hired security guards who were supposed to be protecting a highway paving project from Taliban-installed roadside bombs.”
“The contractors were able to have such proximity to a U.S. patrol because we pay them to work on our FOB (forward operating base), pave the 515 (highway), and provide security from Taliban IED (roadside bomb) implacers in the area,” he says he was told.
blackwaterwelcomesign Blackwater became an extension of the CIA: reportThe role of Blackwater employees in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was so central to the US’s efforts that the lines between the controversial security contractor, the CIA and the military were effectively “blurred,” says a report in the New York Times.
During the height of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006, Blackwater guards participated almost nightly in “snatch and grab” raids on suspected militants, the Times reported in a story published late Thursday.
The company’s cooperation in top-secret CIA operations “illuminate[s] a far deeper relationship between the spy agency and the private security company than government officials have previously acknowledged,” the Times reports.
“Blackwater’s partnership with the CIA has been enormously profitable for the North Carolina-based company, and became even closer after several top agency officials joined Blackwater.”
“It became a very brotherly relationship,” an unnamed “former top CIA officer” told the Times. “There was a feeling that Blackwater eventually became an extension of the agency.”
Story continues below…
From the Times article:
Several former Blackwater guards said that their involvement in the operations became so routine that the lines supposedly dividing the Central Intelligence Agency, the military and Blackwater became blurred. Instead of simply providing security for C.I.A. officers, they say, Blackwater personnel at times became partners in missions to capture or kill militants in Iraq and Afghanistan, a practice that raises questions about the use of guns for hire on the battlefield.
Representative Rush D. Holt, a New Jersey Democrat who is chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, said in an interview that “the use of contractors in intelligence and paramilitary operations is a scandal waiting to be examined.” While he declined to comment on specific operations, Mr. Holt said that the use of contractors in such operations “got way out of hand. It’s been very troubling to a lot of people.”
Over the course of the past year, information has been slowly leaking out about Blackwater’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the broader war on terrorism. Allegations have emerged that the Bush administration hired Blackwater to run elements of its “extraordinary rendition” program, which saw terrorism suspects kidnapped and taken to countries where they could be tortured.
Following the revelation last summer of a secret “CIA hit squad” that targeted high-value terrorists for assassination, allegations emerged that the government had outsourced parts of that program to Blackwater, a move some critics have described as “unconstitutional.”
And an investigative report from The Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill revealed last month that the Obama administration is using Blackwater in a program to assassinate terrorist targets in Pakistan.
With a slew of bad news about his company emerging almost weekly in the press, Blackwater founder and chairman Erik Prince revealed last week that he plans to retire from the company. Prince said he wants to teach high school.Start Slide Show with PicLens Lite
Report: Obama using Blackwater for assassinations in Pakistan
Published on 11-23-2009
The Obama administration is using mercenaries with the firm formerly known as Blackwater to kidnap and assassinate high value targets in Pakistan, according to a published report.
The program, operated out of the US Joint Special Operations Command, “is so ‘compartmentalized’ that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence,” an unnamed source with direct knowledge of the program told The Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill.
Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater, is also allegedly involved in intelligence collection for a drone bombing campaign in the country.
Scahill’s report added: “A defense official, on background, specifically denied that Blackwater performs work on drone strikes or intelligence for JSOC in Pakistan. ‘We don’t have any contracts to do that work for us. We don’t contract that kind of work out, period,’ the official said. ‘There has not been, and is not now, contracts between JSOC and that organization for these types of services.’ The previously unreported program, the military intelligence source said, is distinct from the CIA assassination program that the agency’s director, Leon Panetta, announced he had canceled in June 2009. ‘This is a parallel operation to the CIA,’ said the source. ‘They are two separate beasts.’”
A Blackwater spokesman told The Nation that none of its forces are operating in Pakistan. However, a “former senior executive at Blackwater” told Scahill that Xe’s mercs are indeed working in Pakistan, sometimes employed by the country’s government to operate alongside soldiers. The arrangement allows the Pakistani government to deny any U.S. military presence in the country, while allowing them to tap former U.S. special forces members for high-risk missions.
Scahill added that the CIA is also employing the firm in parallel operations.
“Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that,” Scahill’s source reportedly said. “Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don’t care. If there’s one person they’re going after and there’s thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That’s the mentality. They’re not accountable to anybody and they know that. It’s an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?”
During the Bush administration, the JSOC was reportedly being commanded by the vice president’s office, effectively making them Dick Cheney’s own “executive assassination squad,” according to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.
President Obama’s top official on the occupation of Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, oversaw the JSOC from September 2003 to August 2008.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment, Scahill reported.
Read Scahill’s full report.
Published on 11-04-2009
KARACHI – The foreigners affiliated with the notorious private military contractor Blackwater, whose security company Blackwater was later renamed as Xe Services LLC, arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday through a PIA flight, sources told TheNation.
“Of the 274 passengers, who boarded Pakistan’s national flag carrier-PIA, flight PK-786 from Heathrow Airport UK, 202 were foreigners but they were fluently speaking Urdu language,” disclosed the sources.
The officials on duty at Shaheed Benazir International Airport Islamabad said, “We had instructions to allow the foreigners entry without custom procedure.”
The sources said that the plane reached the Islamabad airport at 4:08am, and they had received the official instructions from the authorities not to inspect any of them and clear them immediately from the airport.
An official of PIA confirmed that the PIA flight PK-786 from Heathrow reached Islamabad at its destination at 04:08 am and said that the plane had the capacity of 358 passengers but total 274 passengers travelled on the flight.
He declined to comment the presence of large number of foreigners in the flight saying that they had no information in this regard.
Former Chief of Army Staff Mirza Aslam Beg claimed that former President Pervez Musharraf had given Blackwater the green signal to carry out its terrorist operations in the cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Quetta.
He also claimed that the Blackwater was directly involved in the murder of Benazir Bhutto and Lebanese Rafiq Hariri.
According to the New York Times August 20, 2009 report by Mark Mazzetti, the Central Intelligence Agency in 2004 hired contractors from the private security contractor Blackwater USA as part of a secret programme to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al-Qaeda.
“It has also drawn a controversy. Blackwater employees hired to guard American diplomats in Iraq were accused of using excessive force on several occasions, including shootings in Baghdad in 2007 in which 17 civilians were killed. Iraqi officials have since refused to give the company an operating licence.”
“Several current and former government officials interviewed for this article spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing details of a still classified programme,” the NYT reported.
The newspaper report said that despite publicly breaking with it, the State Department continued to award the company, formerly known as Blackwater, more than $400 million in contracts to fly its diplomats around Iraq, guard them in Afghanistan, and train security forces in anti-terrorism tactics at its remote camp in North Carolina.
Published on 08-10-2009
The accuser, only known as John Doe #2 in court documents because he claims he has been threatened with “death and violence” by managers of Prince’s company, wrote that “Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Chrisian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.”
This mention of the Knights Templar is an interesting one because it shifts the focus of Iraq from a quest for oil to that of a holy war. Remember when Pres. Bush got laughs for referring to the “war on terror” as a “crusade.” And this isn’t the only time Prince and his company Blackwater have been linked, albeit tenuously, with these shadow elements of the Catholic church and Christian fundamentalists.
The European Parliament published a report by Giovanni Claudio Fava, a Socialist Group legislator, claiming that there are connections between Blackwater and Malta. Malta is where the Knights of Malta, another right-wing element of the Catholic Church similar to the Knights Templar, once lived and still maintain control of Fort St. Angelo.
The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill has also written about connections between Prince, Malta and Pres. Bush’s rendition program in which terrorist suspects were sent to other countries for the purpose of torture. The program, according to Scahill was run by Cofer Black, who is allegedly a Knight of Malta himself and used Malta in the rendition program.
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