Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has urged the Justice Department to look into whether Blackwater Worldwide made false statements in order to obtain a Department of Defense contract.
In a letter dated Feb. 25 to Attorney General Eric Holder, Levin wrote that his committee uncovered information that Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, lied about its capabilities and didn’t face thorough government oversight. The letter was released Thursday by the senator’s office and first reported by The Hill.
Blackwater has been under fire for its handling of security in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, Blackwater guards allegedly killed or injured more than 30 Iraqis in a shooting.
For eight months, the Senate panel has been probing government contractors in the region, according to The Hill. The committee learned that Blackwater was using a shell company it set up called Paravant to avoid the “baggage” that came with Blackwater and to help win a government contract, according to committee chairman.
“The deception is troubling,” Levin wrote in the letter.
Raytheon Technical Services Co., a Defense contractor, employed Paravant in 2008 to handle a $25 million Defense Department sub-contract. Paravant said in a proposal that it had thousands of overseas employees and had several years of experience. But Paravant did not have any employees and was started in 2008, the committee found.
The contract was given to Paravant only months after the State Department said it lost “confidence in [Blackwater's] credibility and management ability,” according to Levin. An Army contracting officer, who approved the sub-contract, told the panel that he was unaware that Paravant was run by Blackwater.
“That makes the deceptive representation a serious matter,” Levin said.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates also sent Feb. 25, the panel chairman urged the secretary to “carefully review” a Blackwater proposal to train Afghan police. The contract could be worth up to $1 billion, according to Levin.
Leah Nylen contributed to this report.
The Obama administration is still unsure of what to do with the group of Guantanamo Bay detainees accused of involvement in the September 11 attacks. But government lawyers today said today they’d prefer to prosecute terrorism suspects in civilian courts.
Carol Rosenberg, of the The Miami Herald, has this piece on today’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, which featured a panel of government lawyers, including David Kris, chief of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. (Click here for his prepared testimony.) The hearing was held to determine how to amend the Military Commissions Act to make it “Supreme Court proof,” as Rosenberg put it. Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the full Senate would take up the legislation next week.
”Military commissions should be a viable, ready alternative for national security reasons for those who violate the laws of war,” Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson said. But, “it is the administration view that when you direct violence on innocent civilians in the continental United States, it may be appropriate that that person be brought to justice in a civilian public forum in the continental United States.”
Kris said military and civilian prosecutors were analysing the proposed commissions prosecutions on a case-by-case basis to see which venue was the best fit.
Johnson, resurrecting a Bush-era policy, said a Guantanamo detainee could be acquitted of a crime by a jury but still be held indefinitely “provided they continue to be a security threat.” He put it on federal judges weighing habeas corpus petitions in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to decide whether the government could defend indefinite detention, regardless of whether the captives were found innocent of a crime.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that a DOJ task force considering ways to try prisoners by military commission asked the Office of Legal Counsel which constitutional rights, if any, would apply if the trials were held in the U.S.
David Barron, the acting assistant attorney general, wrote in a May 4 memorandum that there is a “serious risk” that federal courts would take a constitutional due process approach when evaluating the trials. While the courts were unlikely to require strict adherence to the Bill of Rights, Barron wrote, they would likely consider the use of coerced statements to punish defendants a violation of due process.