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.
The U.S. government sets comprehensive standards for the selection and training of security guards. Blackwater’s competitively awarded contract contains dozens of pages detailing requirements for each position and specifying hour-by-hour training for each individual. This is all before they set foot in Iraq.
I have seen firsthand how the security environment has vacillated considerably since 2003, when I would ride around Baghdad in thin-skinned vehicles rather than the military armored personnel carriers that soon became necessary amid the growing threat of roadside attacks. While still extraordinarily dangerous, the situation in Iraq has improved significantly since the time of the September 2007 shooting incident in Nisour Square.
According to a Department of Defense report to Congress, from mid-June to mid-July 2007 — the time frame that preceded the September 2007 shooting incident — Baghdad experienced an average of 43 attacks per day, more than double the attacks in any other province. During the week before the Nisour Square incident, one of Blackwater’s helicopters was shot down, a separate team came under fire from armed insurgents, and a third team survived a roadside bomb. Even amidst such an aggressive and ubiquitous enemy, Blackwater’s incident reports during that time period show that personnel discharged their weapons less than one half of one percent of the time.
Then and now, Blackwater personnel encounter myriad potential or actual hostile acts on a daily basis. Enemies attack with rocket- propelled grenades, sniper fire and car bombs. Responding to these attacks often requires split-second decisions, and so Blackwater’s contracts include detailed rules for the use of force. Our teams operate under a government-prescribed process that involves a series of visual and audible signals to distinguish between approaching civilian motorists and insurgents attempting to get close enough to a convoy to ignite a car bomb.
The U.S. government currently has criminal jurisdiction over Blackwater and any other contractor accused of wrongdoing. In announcing indictments this week, Jeffrey A. Taylor, United States Attorney for the District of Columbia said, “It bears emphasis that today’s indictment is very narrow in its allegations. Six individual Blackwater guards have been charged with unjustified shootings on September 16, 2007, not the entire Blackwater organization in Baghdad. There were 19 Blackwater guards on the Raven 23 team that day at Nisour Square. Most acted professionally, responsibly, and honorably. Indeed this indictment should not be read as an accusation against any of those brave men and women who risk their lives as Blackwater security contractors.”
One of these brave people is Derrick Wright. In April 2007, a rocket tore through the Baghdad living quarters where Blackwater personnel were sleeping. Fortunately, no one was killed. But many were seriously injured, including Mr. Wright, a West Point graduate, Army Ranger and father of three. He suffered grave injuries when a portion of his skull was shattered in the attack.
Stabilized in the Green Zone, Mr. Wright was airlifted to a hospital in Europe where his prognosis was bleak. When Mr. Wright’s wife arrived, she found her husband coming out of brain surgery and described him as a man who “had one foot in this world and one out.” He has since shown remarkable progress after extensive physical therapy, a cranioplasty to repair damage to his skull, and many other procedures.
Derrick Wright and the other team members injured that day were not in Iraq to fight the war. Just like every Blackwater professional who makes the trip to Iraq, they were putting their lives at risk each day to protect U.S. Department of State officials and other civilians working in the country. Yet somehow that role and the part they play in this war have been grossly misunderstood.
While some of our critics seize upon inaccurate labels, I doubt they have ever known one of our contractors personally or been protected by them. Our teams are not cooking meals or moving supplies. They are taking bullets. They are military veterans who have chosen to serve their country once again. Very few people know someone who would voluntarily go into a war zone to protect a person he has never met. I know 1,000 of them, and I am proud that they are part of our team.
Mr. Prince, a former Navy SEAL, is founder and CEO of Blackwater Worldwide.
Since United States military operations in Iraq began in 2003, I have visited Iraq at…
by Tactical-Life.com / Dec 16, 2008