Privatization & Public Safety

“I can tell you right now how to shave $10 million off the city budget,” a DeKalb business person told me recently.

How?

“Privatize everything.”

It’s an extreme view redolent of anti-union sentiment and we will not be hearing pronouncements from city hall about contracting out for basic services anytime soon, I’m sure.

However, that doesn’t mean privatization isn’t going to happen in DeKalb. Due to ongoing budget woes, some version of it may stumble in through the back door. Continue reading Privatization & Public Safety

Help Stop Blackwater Now

Action Alert! Support Needed For
Limitations on Private Military Contractors Act

Rep. Julie Hamos has introduced a bill into the Illinois legislation that establishes as public policy that private military contractors should not receive state funding or support in Illinois. The bill sets 3 important limitations on their function and use:

1. No state funds may be used to contract with or purchase services from private military contractors for training of law enforcement or security Guards.

2. No military weapons or explosives may be used by private military contractors in Illinois except on secured U.S. military bases or regulated facilities.

3. No personnel trained by private military contractors may be used to patrol, guard, control, contain or arrest any Illinois resident.

We need your help to move this bill forward in the Illinois House. This legislation is key to getting Blackwater out of Illinois and to protecting Illinois citizens from the impact of other private military firms like Blackwater. Continue reading Help Stop Blackwater Now

Town Recalls Pro-Blackwater Planning Board

[Whoops! Correction: One of the planning board members is anti-Blackwater and therefore was not a target of the recall.]

Potrero, California, in east San Diego County recalled its entire the pro-Blackwater contingent of its planning board on the basis of its approval of plans for Blackwater USA to buy 824 acres for a new mercenary training facility they call “Blackwater West.” Then, the town replaced the board with anti-Blackwater representation.

The vote count is clear and stunning: of just over 280 votes cast, (59% turnout) each of the incumbents was recalled with at least 63% in favor and each of the anti-Blackwater (pro-Potrero) candidates received no less than 71% of the votes. The new members will take their office upon certification of the results; the registrar told us that certification would occur not later than Thursday morning. With the next meeting of the Planning Group scheduled for Thursday night, we should have a 100% anti-Blackwater (pro-Potrero) panel set to take action.

Local farmer Carl Meyer led the effort. Next up is convincing 3 of the 5 San Diego County Supervisors to overcome the lobbying power of Blackwater in favor of the voters. If not, says Meyer, “The same recall mechanism works for county supervisors as for the Potrero planning group.”

Blackwater Being Investigated for Arms Smuggling

The Associated Press reports that

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether employees of the private security firm Blackwater USA illegally smuggled into Iraq weapons that may have been sold on the black market and ended up in the hands of a U.S. designated terrorist organization, officials said Friday.

The time has come to ask ourselves here in Illinois do we really want a company with Blackwater’s reputation training our local law enforcement. Can we trust the “quality training” they say they are delivering anymore than we can trust the distortions coming from their public relations office?

On Tuesday Blackwater defended itself in relation to the shooting of Iraqi civilians over the weekend.

“Blackwater regrets any loss of life, but this convoy was violently attacked by armed insurgents, not civilians, and our people did their job to defend human life.” said Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell, reported in the September 19th edition of the Chicago Tribune.

This makes Blackwater seem very innocent. However the Friday edition of the NY Times reports that a copy of the Iraqi official investigation into the shootings reports that it was Blackwater who opened fire first. Firing on a car with a male driver and woman passenger holding a baby. This testimony came from an Iraq police officer at the scene. He reported that the car did not stop when an Iraqi police officer instructed him to stop. Blackwater then shot him. The woman began to scream and then they shot her. The car kept rolling so they then shot an explosive into the car so that it would burn. Continue reading Blackwater Being Investigated for Arms Smuggling

Blackwater USA May Expand Into Thailand

Sources that wish to remain unidentified in Thailand and others close to Blackwater executives report that Blackwater USA is in negotiations with the government of Thailand. The purpose of the talks is reportedly to open a training center in the country. Having lost their attempt last year to open a jungle training facility in the Philippines, it appears that Blackwater has now turned its sights on Thailand.

Blackwater President Gary Jackson said in May of 2006, according to a June article in the Virginian Pilot that the company planned to open an Asian branch on 25 acres of the former U.S. naval base at Subric Bay to teach jungle survival skills.

The Philippine Congress however took steps to stop those plans before a facility could open. Chris Taylor, a Blackwater vice president, blamed the controversy on “misinformation and confusion.”

Blackwater USA, located in at least nine countries world wide, is one of the most widely known of the many private military firms that have flourished since the start of the war in Iraq. Gary Jackson said the company saw a 600% revenue jump from 2002 to 2005. Earlier this year they started to provide training in the Sudan region. Continue reading Blackwater USA May Expand Into Thailand

Knocking On Blackwater USA’s Gate

It was a hot dry day in the rolling pastoral hills of Jo Daviess county. Beneath the bright sun about 80 citizens made history. It was the first time in the history of the United States that a group of unarmed citizens stood up for democracy at the gates of a private military firm. And not just any private military firm but the most powerful mercenary company in the United States, if not the world.

Among local citizens were representatives of at least 12 different peace and justice groups from northern Illinois, Chicago, southern Wisconsin, and eastern Iowa. We were also joioned in spirit by those who belong to Blackwater Watch in North Carolina,a group of citizens in Moyock Blackwater’s headquarters. Joined also by those working to stop Blackwater in California. And in spirit by those in New Orleans and across the gulf region who after hurricane Katrinia some learned what it feels like to be struggling to survive and have a semiautomatic assault rifle thrust in your face by a Blackwater USA contractor providing security for someone’s property.Finally we also had by our sides in spirit the citizens of Iraq who have been assaulted and murdered by private military employees.

Despite every difficulty imaginable put before us by local authorities–such as not allowing us to park on the road or anywhere near by…(we had to shuttle people from a parking area nearly 10 miles away.) But we wouldn’t let them stop us. Using the back of a pick-up truck parked at the gate for a stage we spoke truth to power at their front door. We stood out in the open air unafraid to tell the truth. Something Blackwater USA, its owner Eric prince, nor the Bush administration can say.

The event was video taped and parts of it will be available soon on You Tube News Service. Continue reading Knocking On Blackwater USA’s Gate

Blackwater Employee Commits Murder and Receives a Free Ticket Home

Christmas Eve 2006 in Baghdad’s Green Zone an off-duty Blackwater employee shot and killed Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s personal bodyguard. Seven months later the contractor is still free and has not been charged with any crime. This story received little media coverage. Partly because Abdul-Mahdi assured the U.S. ambassador that he would try to keep it from public attention.

In February during a Congressional hearing the large room filled to capacity went silent when Rep. Dennis Kucinich asked Blackwater USA’s general counsel Andrew Howell if he was aware of the shooting. Mr. Howell replied that he was aware of it and that Blackwater had brought the individual “back to the United States.”

A recent article by Bill Sizemore, published in the Virginian-Pilot, provides additional insight into the incident with memos secured through use of the Freedom of Information Act. His article cites U.S. State Department memos that reveal an effort to keep this murder from the citizens. Continue reading Blackwater Employee Commits Murder and Receives a Free Ticket Home

Blackwater USA Out-Maneuvers US Justice System

“Blackwater [USA] sees themselves as outside the law. They do anything they want.”

Katy Helvenston-Wettengel told me just days before Blackwater attorneys put her under a gag order. In March of 2004 her son and his three colleagues were killed in a Fallujah ambush by insurgents. The ambush led to the lynching seen around the world. The gruesome scene in Fallujah catapulted Blackwater to national attention. And because they “died for their company, not their country” their deaths have also led to a long court battle between Blackwater USA and the contractors’ families. Helveston says in a tired voice,

“Nothing’s been the same. I can’t sleep anymore. My life and the war changed that day.” Continue reading Blackwater USA Out-Maneuvers US Justice System

Scahill Talks Blackwater in DeKalb

Jeremy Scahill visited DeKalb and Jo Daviess County last week to talk about his book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Video News Service put together a short video for YouTube, Blackwater Invades Illinois, of Scahill’s hourlong talks at these venues, the Jo Daviess turnout estimated at 120-150 people. Blackwater recently opened controversial paramilitary training camp Blackwater North near Mt. Carroll, probably in violation of zoning laws there.

Highlights from Scahill’s talk in DeKalb, which I attended:

  • Formed in 1996, Blackwater found traction for growth in a series of tragedies starting with the Columbine massacre.
  • The idea for the first Blackwater base, in North Carolina, was sold as a hunting lodge concept.
  • Blackwater is not the largest of the security firms, just the most elite. They got that reputation in part by keeping alive the most hated man in post-war Iraq, Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority.
  • “Contractor” casualties in Iraq–deeply secret so this is just an estimate–run to at least 770 dead and over 7,000 wounded.
  • More than 300 of the 435 registered voters of tiny Potrero, CA, are fighting a similar installation called Blackwater West near their community, which lies southeast of San Diego.
  • Blackwater Does Exactly as it Pleases

    [Admin/Editor’s note: To find out whether anything good could come out of Blackwater North’s establishment in Jo Daviess county, CityBarbs investigator treesfieldssky talked to residents in North Carolina who live near Blackwater USA’s facility in that state.]

    The neighbors are not allowed onto the Blackwater property. One resident said her mother, over 80, accidentally drove up to the gate. They made her get out of the car and searched the vehicle. Even Mennonites aren’t trusted by this large and powerful military firm. It was also reported that a local Mennonite carpet cleaner got lost, drove up to Blackwater’s gate. He said they drew guns on him and screamed profanity.

    It appears that Blackwater USA is not the “good neighbors” they claim to be nor are they good citizens. According to sources who want to remain anonymous and who live in the vicinity of Blackwater USA’s headquarters in North Carolina, “They [Blackwater] don’t take “no” for an answer.” Continue reading Blackwater Does Exactly as it Pleases