Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Blackwater Charged With Murder, Tax Evasion, Shredding of Evidence in Baghdad Massacre Case

By William Fisher

New charges filed against private security contractor Blackwater accuse the company of murder, destruction of audio and videotaped evidence, distribution of controlled substances, tax evasion, child prostitution, and weapons smuggling.

The new charges were filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) by several of the Iraqi civilians who were injured or who lost family members when Blackwater personnel opened fire in Nisoor Square in Baghdad in September 2007.

The new allegations, which have been added to an ongoing civil lawsuit in Virginia federal court, charge that then Blackwater chairman Erik Prince "has created an enterprise that has engaged in a series of illegal acts that suffice as RICO predicate acts extending over a substantial period of time beginning
at least in 2003. The Prince RICO Enterprise continues to exist, continues to engage in repeated illegal acts, and poses a grave and special threat to the social well-being of the world."

The lawsuit alleged that Blackwater “created and fostered a culture of lawlessness amongst its employees, encouraging them to act in the company’s financial interests at the expense of innocent human life. This action seeks compensatory damages to compensate the injured and the families of those gunned down and killed by Blackwater shooters. This action seeks punitive damages in an amount sufficient to punish Erik Prince and his Blackwater companies for their repeated callous killing of innocents.”

Blackwater has changed its name and is now operating as Xe and other names under Prince’s control. Eric Prince has resigned as chairman of the company.

Katherine Gallagher, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a member of the legal team bringing the suit, told us, "Through this case, the victims of the most notorious -- though far from the only -- shooting of civilians on the streets of Baghdad seek to hold accountable those who have caused irreparable harm to them and their loved ones. The Plaintiffs are all Iraqis who were simply going about their daily lives when Blackwater opened fire in Nisoor Square. They look forward to having their day in court against Blackwater and its founder, Eric Prince."

She added, “The Iraqi victims of Xe - Blackwater’s unlawful actions have come to U.S. courts in search of justice. Justice begins with accountability, and private military contractors must be held accountable when they shoot innocent people.”

The complaint alleges that Xe-Blackwater “created and fostered a culture of lawlessness amongst its employees, encouraging them to act in the company's financial interests at the expense of innocent human life. The destruction and suffering caused by the defendants, controlled by Erik Prince, are contrary to the interests of the U.S. military and State Department, and the nation of Iraq."

The suit also seeks a court order requiring Erik Prince to divest himself of any direct or indirect interest in the RICO Enterprise or dissolve the RICO Enterprise after making due provision for the rights of innocents, imposes reasonable restrictions on Prince's future activities or investments, and prohibits Prince from engaging in any mercenary or private military business."

This case, Abtan v Prince, was originally filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia in October 2007 following the shooting in Nisoor Square in September 2007. The alleged victims voluntary dismissed the case in the District of Columbia and filed in the Eastern District of Virginia last month. The amended RICO complaint was filed last week.

The underlying facts in this civil case form the basis for the criminal case filed by the Department of Justice against six Blackwater "shooters." One pled guilty and the trial of the remaining five defendants is currently set for early 2010.

The defendants in both cases include Mr. Prince, Xe, various Prince-controlled entities such as Blackwater, The Prince Group, Falcon, Greystone Limited, Total Intelligence Solutions, EP Investments, and Raven Development Group.

Blackwater was operating Iraq under a contract with the U.S. State Department (DOS), its mission being to protect DOS personnel. In December 2008, the State Department’s inspector general warned that Blackwater might not be granted a license by the Iraqi government next year, forcing the Obama administration to make new security arrangements.

The Iraqi government subsequently denied Blackwater a license and the State Department hired another private security firm.

The issue of private security contractors in Iraq was further complicated by the Status of Forces agreement negotiated between the U.S. and Iraq. Under that agreement, State Department contractors no longer have immunity from criminal prosecution under Iraqi law.

The IG report found that changes since the 2007 shooting “have resulted in a more professional security operation and the curtailment of overly aggressive actions” by contractors toward Iraqi civilians.

In response to its findings, Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, urged the State Department to drop Blackwater as an Iraq contractor.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince is a former U.S.navu Seal and a major contributor to Republican Party candidates. In resigning, he released a brief statement announcing he is stepping down to “focus his efforts on a private equity venture unrelated to the company."

In a personal message sent to his employees and clients, Prince attempted to depict his departure as a natural evolution. "As many of you know, because we focus on continually improving our business that Xe is in the process of a comprehensive restructuring," he wrote. "It is with pride in our many accomplishments and confidence in Xe's future that I announce my resignation as the company's Chief Executive Officer."

Blackwater's new name and Prince's resignation followed the State Department's announcement that it would not be renewing Blackwater's security contract in Iraq. Blackwater still holds lucrative government contracts in Afghanistan and elsewhere and is reportedly marketing "CIA-type services" to Fortune 1000 companies through Prince's Total Intelligence Solutions.

The complaint alleges that Xe-Blackwater, “in addition to hiring persons known (or should have been known) to use steroids and other judgment-altering drugs, has been hiring as mercenaries former military officials known to have been involved in human rights abuses in Chile.”

It contends that “Xe-Blackwater knows that the former Chileans commandos hired by Xe-Blackwater received amnesty from punishment for their wanton disregard of human rights in exchange for being forbidden from taking part in any military or security activities in Chile.”

The suit also charges that “Xe-Blackwater has been hiring mercenaries from the Philippines, Chile, Nepal, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Peru, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Jordan and perhaps South Africa.” Blackwater hired foreign nationals without regard for the fact that they were forbidden by the laws of their country from serving as mercenaries,” the complaint says.

It also alleges that Xe-Blackwater employees “shredded an unknown number of documents that related to the company’s criminal and civil legal exposures.”

Xe-Blackwater failed to take the appropriate steps in hiring proper personnel to perform services.” It failed to properly screen personnel before their hiring; to train personnel properly; to investigate allegations of wrongdoing; to reprimand for wrongful actions; to adequately monitor for and stop illegal substance abuse; and negligently permitted repeated lawlessness by employees,” the lawsuit charges.

It also accuses The Prince RICO Enterprise of “willfully evading the payment of taxes during 2006 and 2007 by hiding the proceeds from its illegal racketeering acts in offshore accounts, the complaint charges.


By William Fisher

U.S. authorities detain thousands of people each year solely
on the basis of religion, race or nationality, the American Civil Liberties Union charges in a new report to the United Nations.

The report says racial profiling is often applied to immigrants from South Asia and to North Africans suspected of being Islamic militants following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Submitted to the U.N. Committee to End Racial Discrimination, the report said profiling could involve harassment, detention, arrest or investigation.

Many Latin American immigrants are also targeted for immigration violations while others, including African Americans, are profiled as suspected drug offenders, the report said.

Chandra Bhatnagar, staff attorney with the ACLU's human rights program, told us, “Racial profiling was widespread and pervasive during the George W. Bush Administration and it continues to be the reality today. The Obama Administration must finally put an end to this undemocratic and counterproductive practice by supporting the legislation currently making its way through Congress.”

He was referring to the End Racial Profiling Bill first introduced in 1997, but which has not yet been passed into law.

Civil libertarians place much of the responsibility for continued use of racial profiling to the practices of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and particularly to a DHS unit known as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE, a law enforcement organization and the largest investigative arm of the DHS, is responsible for enforcing the nation’s immigration and customs laws.

Months ago, DHS’s new leader, Secretary Janet Napolitano, promised a thorough review of the agency’s policies and practices. But the ACLU’s Bhatnagar agrees with other civil liberties advocates that no results of that review have been made public.

These advocates are particularly critical of a number of DHS programs designed to increase the participation of state and local police in enforcing federal laws.

"Police officers who are often not adequately trained, and in some cases not trained at all, in federal immigration enforcement, will improperly rely on race or ethnicity as a proxy for undocumented status," the ACLU report said.

The involvement of local police in this was having a "devastating impact" on some communities, Bhatnagar told us.

The ACLU says it has received complaints from across the country of U.S. citizens of Latin appearance being illegally stopped, detained, arrested and even deported by local law enforcement functioning as immigration agents.

Another contentious issue is ICE’s detention policies and practices, which have resulted in significant increases in immigrants being held in jails run by ICE, city and county jails, and private prison facilities.

The Los Angeles detention center has been a particular target of criticism. Civil rights groups are suing ICE in federal district court for detaining immigrants in egregious and unsanitary conditions in that facility.

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of Southern California, the National Immigration Law Center, and a private law firm, also charges that the unsanitary conditions have led ICE to deprive immigrants of due-process rights such as access to mail or attorneys while in detention.

The Los Angeles facility, known as “B-18,” is allowed to temporarily house detainees for no more than 12 hours. But in what the ACLU calls “a perverse distortion of its original purpose,” it says immigration officials have kept detainees for weeks by shuttling them to local jails in the evenings and on weekends, and returning them to the facility on the next business day, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also alleged that immigration officials often fail to notify detainees that they have the right to obtain release on bail while their cases remain pending.

The lawsuit said B-18 has not provided basic medication besides the lack of sanitary equipment. Some of the facilities to which detainees are shuttled have similar gross deficiencies. Detainees are not permitted to have shower in jail. Up to 50 detainees routinely share one open commode, one urinal (or two open commodes) and one sink. At some local jails, overcrowding and vents that blow extremely cold air on the bunks force detainees to sleep on mattresses on the floor. At B-18 and other jails, guards force detainees to remain inside through the entire day, and only permit them to go outside when shuttling them between detention centers. They are not permitted to have any physical recreation.

These conditions violate the statutory and constitutional rights of the detainees. “It’s shameful that immigration officers are treating detainees like animals, apparently because the immigration bureaucracy cannot seem to send detainees to the right place,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, ACLU Director of Immigrant Rights and National Security.

ICE has also faired poorly in court cases. In April, a federal judge issued a ruling calling into question the U.S. immigration agents' treatment of a Syrian-born German citizen who was jailed by U.S. officials, subjected to strip and visual cavity searches, and asked to spy for the U.S. government. The federal court rejected the government's request to have the case against the U.S. government and immigration agents dismissed in its entirety.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Majed Chehade by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and a private law firm against the United States, federal agents, the City of North Las Vegas, and the North Las Vegas Police Department.

Chehade is a 64-year old German citizen whose wife, three children, and grandson are U.S. citizens. Chehade owns a home in Massachusetts and is the export director of a German manufacturing company. On his way to visit his daughter in December 2006, he was detained at Las Vegas Airport and taken to a local jail, where he was subjected to strip and visual cavity searches, denied access to medical care and his prescription medications, and told that if he wanted to return to the U.S., he would have to spy on behalf of the government.

In its ruling, the court held that strip searches of immigrants arriving in the country are constitutional only if supported by reasonable suspicion. The court further held that the immigration agents' actions could be considered "extreme and outrageous conduct" and allowed an inquiry into the legality of the government's attempt to conscript a foreign national to spy to move forward.

The ACLU and many other similar organizations are also critical of a DHS program known as Fusion Centers. These state, local and regional institutions were originally created to improve the sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. These centers have grown to include not just law enforcement, but other government entities, the military and the private sector.

The ACLU says the centers, over 40 of which have been established around the country, “raise very serious privacy issues at a time when new technology, government powers and zeal in the ‘war on terrorism’ are combining to threaten Americans' privacy at an unprecedented level.”

It adds that “federal, state and local governments are increasing their investment in fusion centers without properly assessing whether they serve a necessary purpose.”