Breaking news from The New York Times:
Top executives at Blackwater Worldwide authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials.
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.
Of course, bribing foreign officials is against U.S. law. Blackwater (which changed its name to Xe earlier this year) has repeatedly found itself at the center of controversies, in addition to the massacre at Nisour Square. The most recent came to light in August, when The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill reported that two former employees alleged in sworn statements that Blackwater owner Erik Prince “may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company.”
Five Blackwater employees are awaiting trial, scheduled to begin next year in federal court, for manslaughter related to the Nisour Square shooting. In 2007, the Iraqi government revoked the contractor’s license to operate in the country. According to The Times, a company spokeswoman dismissed the payoff allegations as “baseless.”
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