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President Obama, Why Did You Pay Blackwater $70 Million in February?

Obama may keep the company on the government payroll months after its Iraq contract expires. Not bad for a firm supposedly going down in flames.
 
 
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For those already outraged at the AIG bonus scandal, here is a fact that should add more fuel to the fire: The Obama administration has paid the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater nearly $70 million to operate in Iraq and, according to The Washington Times, may keep the company on the payroll months past the official expiration of its Iraq contract in May. I reviewed Blackwater's recent transactions with the Obama State Department and discovered a $45 million payment to Blackwater on February 4, 2009 for "protective services-Iraq." It is described as a "funding action only." Here is the interesting part: The estimated "Ultimate Completion Date" is 5/07/2011.

The Washington Times (as described below) reported on a $22 million payment to Blackwater on February 2. Combined with the $45 million payment I discovered, that's nearly $67 million in 72 hours. Not bad for a company supposedly going down in flames.

With the U.S. economy in shambles and millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet and keep their homes, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton need to explain to U.S. taxpayers how they justify these mega-payments to a scandal-plagued mercenary company. (At the very least, someone should ask Robert Gibbs about it).

It has been widely reported that the Bush administration's preferred mercenary company, which recently renamed itself Xe, will soon be leaving Iraq. That news came early this year after the State Department, under immense public pressure, announced it would not renew the company's lucrative deal to act as the private paramilitary force for senior U.S. occupation officials. The Iraqi government has said it wants the company to leave Iraq and says it has revoked the company's operating license. The Obama administration continues to use Blackwater in Afghanistan and the company has extensive domestic training contracts with the military and law enforcement agencies inside the borders of the U.S.

Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that some of Blackwater's armed operatives may simply be rehired by two other US mercenary firms that are expected to take over Blackwater's work in Iraq under the Obama administration: Triple Canopy and DynCorp. Now, The Washington Times reports that the State Department has signed contracts with Blackwater that appear to extend the company's presence in Iraq at least until September 2009.

According to the paper:

"On Feb. 2, a department spokesman was asked whether officials planned to renew one of Blackwater's contracts past May. The spokesman, Robert Wood, said the department had told Blackwater 'we did not plan to renew the company's existing task force orders for protective security details in Iraq.'

"But records available through a federal procurement database show that on that same day, the State Department approved a $22.2 million contract modification for Blackwater 'security personnel' in Iraq, with a job completion date of Sept. 3, 2009."

"Why would you continue to use Blackwater when the Iraqi government has banned the highly controversial company and there are other choices?" said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

State Department spokesman Noel Clay told The Washington Times the contract modification involves aviation services. "The place of performance is Iraq, but it is totally different than the Baghdad one that expires in May," he said. Sloan called the State Department's explanation of the Feb. 2 deal a "parsing of words" and said "they should just be straight with us." Xe spokeswoman Anne Tyrell declined to comment on the status of the company's work in Iraq or the Feb. 2 contract modification. She said the company was aware that the State Department had indicated that it did not plan to renew its contracts in Iraq but that Xe officials had not received specific information about leaving the country. "We're following their direction," she said.