US Military Official: Blackwater "May Be Worse Than Abu Ghraib"

This post, written by Steve Benen, originally appeared on The Carpetbagger Report

To describe the ongoing Blackwater scandal as a fiasco would be a dramatic understatement. Not only do we have a situation in which private security contractors stand accused of killing Iraqi civilians without provocation, we also have deep divisions brewing between the Pentagon and the State Department, coupled by State stonewalling a congressional investigation.
A confrontation between the U.S. military and the State Department is unfolding over the involvement of Blackwater USA in the shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad square Sept. 16, bringing to the surface long-simmering tensions between the military and private security companies in Iraq, according to U.S. military and government officials.
In high-level meetings over the past several days, U.S. military officials have pressed State Department officials to assert more control over Blackwater, which operates under the department's authority, said a U.S. government official with knowledge of the discussions. "The military is very sensitive to its relationship that they've built with the Iraqis being altered or even severely degraded by actions such as this event," the official said.
"This is a nightmare," said a senior U.S. military official. "We had guys who saw the aftermath, and it was very bad. This is going to hurt us badly. It may be worse than Abu Ghraib, and it comes at a time when we're trying to have an impact for the long term."

At this point, the State Department seems to be treating Blackwater contractors as the agency's own private army, accountable to no one outside the department. The Maliki government believes Blackwater is a criminal enterprise, the Iraqi people resent Blackwater's presence, the Pentagon believes Blackwater is lying about the Sept. 16 incident in Nisoor Square, and congressional Democrats have questions about what has transpired -- which the State Department refuses to answer.

This is a debacle so severe and humiliating, only the Bush administration could pull it off.
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