Earlier today the House Oversight committee questioned Erik Prince, the founder and CEO of defense contractor Blackwater USA, over reports that employees of his company routinely acted recklessly and with little concern for civilian life. The hearing was prompted by an incident that took place on September 16h in which Blackwater employees opened fire on a crowd of Iraqi civilians, killing 11 people. But before the hearing began, Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) announced that there would be no specific questions about the incident, citing an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice. Still many Republicans objected to the hearing anyway, even attempting to force the committee to adjourn — a motion that was rejected. Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) was typical of the Republicans in attendance, attempting to paint criticism of Blackwater as merely a continuation of the antiwar group MoveOn.org’s criticism of General Petraues, saying Democrats were just interested in attacking the war in Iraq. Earlier in the morning, Issa went on C-Span’s “Washington Journal,” where he went so far as to suggest that Chairman Waxman was placing his own life in jeopardy by even holding the hearing:
“If Henry Waxman today wants to go to Iraq and do an investigation, Blackwater will be his support team. His protection team. Do you think he really wants to investigate directly?” (link — 1:07:20 into clip)
The exception among Republicans was Representative Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), a staunch conservative who has long opposed the war in Iraq (something I discussed with the Congressman back in May). He pointed out that Blackwater derives more than 90% of its income from the federal government, and argued that fiscal conservatives should be concerned about the ever-increasing amount of money private contractors are receiving in Iraq. Democrats, for the most part, pressed Blackwater CEO Erik Prince over what steps his company took to ensure accountability among its employees.
I filed a full account of the hearing for Capitol News Connection, which you may find by going here.