Four years after their initial Freedom of Information Act request, Gawker has received and published 4,500 pages' worth of detail on the way that mercenaries from Blackwater and other defense contractors conducted themselves in Iraq. Their basic procedure appears to have been to shoot any car that attempted to pass or tailgate any of the convoys they guarded, especially if the driver was a "military aged male." Then, with no followup (or very little), they would conclude that the driver was unharmed and drive on, filing a report later. One victim of a
Blackwater mercenary shooting was a judge, who was wounded in the leg (though the mercs' report claimed he was unharmed). The State Department backed the mecenaries on this; in Gawker's words, 'The State Department determined that shooting at judges for driving too fast in their own country is "within the established Department of State policy for escalation of force."' Other drivers were shot because they carried passengers with "devices" in their hands -- such as mobile phones.
When Blackwater teams were caught lying about their roadside battles and executions, they faced little or no discipline. The State Department officials supervising the mercenaries' behavior were told that discipline "would lower morale" among the mercenaries, and seemed to accept this at face value.
A July 2007 email from one State Department official to several colleagues—apparently in reference to the judge's shooting—openly worried about contractor teams indiscriminately shooting their way around Iraq:
When was the last time we...looked into all the other contractor PSD elements running around Iraq? I'm hearing stories of quite a few PSD elements moving from Mosul to Irbil firing up to 50 rounds per move and using bullets like we use hand and arm signals, flashers, or a water bottle. [Security teams would often toss plastic water bottles at the windshield of a suspicious car to get the driver's attention—Ed.]
It doesn't appear that anyone wrote him back or addressed his concerns.
Blackwater subsequently rebranded itself as "Xe," and has just changed its name to Academi, and is still seeking lucrative government contracts. I reviewed Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army in 2007, and it remains an important read for anyone who wants to understand the way that US-funded mercenaries run amok in America's fields of war (and in America's disaster zones, such as post-Katrina New Orleans), murdering and rampaging with impunity.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.