16 December 2008

Blackwater CEO on the role of security contractors

Today's Wall Street Journal carries a piece contributed by Erik Prince, former Navy SEAL and founder and CEO of Blackwater Worldwide.

There are a lot of misperceptions about contractors in Iraq. The majority of contractors provide a wide variety of support functions such as transport, laundry and garbage disposal services, for example.

Blackwater is in the business of providing security. For State Department employees. It's really quite simple, but a lot different than what many people think - namely, that Blackwater contractors are performing in combat roles. Or, that they are some kind of wild, bloodthirsty, money-hungry cowboys allowed to act at will, when in fact they are professionals operating under very strict controls.

How Blackwater Serves America
Think of our staff as soldiers who re-enlist.


Since United States military operations in Iraq began in 2003, I have visited Iraq at least 15 times. But unlike politicians who visit, the question for me has never been why the U.S. got into Iraq. Instead, as the CEO of Blackwater, the urgent question was how the company I head could perform the duties asked of us by the U.S. State Department.

Last week the Department of Justice announced charges against six Blackwater security guards for a shooting incident in Baghdad in September 2007. But before the histories are written, it is crucial to understand the often mischaracterized role of security contractors in this unique war.

In Iraq, State Department civilians and U.S. soldiers have been operating in the same location in an active war zone. While the troops have been facing insurgents, the State Department civilians have been working to rebuild institutions and infrastructure. Blackwater's role in this war evolved from this unprecedented dynamic. The government saw a need for highly experienced, highly trained Americans to protect our civilians abroad, and so it selected Blackwater.

Every individual who has worked for Blackwater in Iraq has previously served in the U.S. military or as a police officer. Many were highly decorated. And from the beginning, these individuals have been bound by detailed contracts that ensure intensive government direction and control.

Obviously, protecting civilians in a war zone is very dangerous, and Blackwater employees are exposed to the same kind of hostile attacks as soldiers. Later in the article Mr. Prince talks about an employee severely wounded while providing security to State Department employees in Iraq.

If the 6 individual Blackwater guards charged with unjustified shootings in September 2007 are found guilty, they should receive appropriate punishment. But we should not allow a shadow to be cast over the vast majority who have acted professionally, responsibly, and honorably over the past 5 years.

It is also worth noting that not a single civilian has been killed while under the protection of Blackwater employees.

No comments: