According to the New York Times, executives at Blackwater tried to buy the silence of the Iraqi government by offering up to $1 million dollars in bribes after the Nissour Square massacre tarnished their image and threatened their expulsion from the country.
Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests over the deadly shootings in Nisour Square stoked long-simmering anger inside Iraq about reckless practices by the security company’s employees. American and Iraqi investigators had already concluded that the shootings were unjustified, top Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater’s ouster from the country and company officials feared that Blackwater might be refused an operating license it would need to retain its contracts with the State Department and private clients, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Four former Blackwater executives said in interviews that Gary Jackson, who was then the company’s president, had approved the bribes, and the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where Blackwater maintains an operations hub, to a top manager in Iraq. The executives, though, said they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of the potential recipients.
While Blackwater did finally lose their State Department contract in May 2009, they managed to hang on for nearly two years after the Nissour Square shootings. And many Blackwater mercenaries still operate in Iraq on an aviation contract. Some of them just changed the names on their shirts, moving from Blackwater to Triple Canopy, the new company guarding diplomats in Iraq.
Cofer Black, the former CIA and State Department official under Republican Administrations, was so incensed by the bribes that he resigned from the company.
There is an ongoing grand jury investigation into Blackwater happening in North Carolina, the home of its headquarters, and this bribery plan is apparently known to prosecutors. Federal law does have a place in this action, says the Times:
If Blackwater followed through, the company or its officials could face charges of obstruction of justice and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans bribes to foreign officials.
Since the FBI was investigating the incident, Blackwater would be in violation of tampering with a federal investigation as well.
Jeremy Scahill, who perhaps knows more about Blackwater than anyone not currently working for the company, has much more. This is notable:
While the Bush administration certainly protected Blackwater after Nisour Square, part of the reason for the alleged or attempted bribes may be this: As the US and Iraq negotiated the Status of Forces Agreement and the Iraqi government attempted to impose more authority over private military companies, the stakes got higher for Blackwater. An official license to operate in Iraq, which Blackwater did not have and long believed was an unnecessary formality, became crucial for Blackwater in order to continue on as the State Department’s prime contractor. To many Iraqis, Blackwater’s continued presence was a stark symbol of the country’s lack of sovereignty. It is an incredible fact that Blackwater has remained as long as it has in the country given the severity and extent of its alleged crimes and the rhetoric from Iraqi political figures about the company.
The committees of jurisdiction in Congress to investigate this matter would probably be the Oversight committees. On the House side, I have a request in to the committee chair, Ed Towns (D-NY), for comment. On the Senate side, the chairman is Joseph I. Lieberman.