Blackwater guardIf you missed Marcy’s and Jane’s excellent live-blogging [starting here] of yesterday’s House Oversight Committee hearing on Blackwater, but watched last night’s television news, you might conclude from questions by ABC’s Gibson and CNN’s Blitzer that the hearing focused on whether it’s more cost-effective to use Blackwater mercenaries or the US military to guard US officials. But you’d be wrong.

Or perhaps you caught the embarrassing clip of Chris Shays using the hearing to praise Blackwater for being “100 percent perfect” in protecting US officials; it never dawned on the clueless Shays that Blackwater’s shoot first and keep driving tactics and the arrogance of its US clients might have spurred a 100 other deadly attacks on US soldiers. He couldn’t grasp that a primary reason for the hearing was to expose the fact that the US State Department had been “100 percent perfect” in shielding its bodyguards from criminal investigations. It’s about the coverup, stupid.

The networks mentioned Blackwater’s CEO testimony, and each had file clips of the recent killings. [See today's NYT coverage for new details] But none of the tv coverage probed the US government’s responsibility.

On PBS’ NewsHour, Judy Woodruff covered the absence of accountability for Blackwater employees, but her story ended before testimony from State Department officials. When she interviewed Chairman Henry Waxman and Ranking Member Tom Davis, the discussion again focused on cost-effectiveness. “Are we getting our money’s worth from Blackwater,” she asked? Waxman doubted we are, and Davis thought we should ask the GAO. Well, that should mollify the Iraqis.

Had these reporters covered the State Department officials’ evasions, viewers would have learned that despite numerous Blackwater shootings/killings, none of State’s officials could say that the Department had ever done anything to hold its mercenaries accountable. That was true even though Blackwater’s CEO testified the company had fired employees for unjustified killings and even though the Commitee staff reported State officials had helped Blackwater, allowing Blackwater to whisk trigger happy employees out of the country.

Homicides are crimes, even if the victims are Iraqis. Do the media not see that those who help the suspects escape may also be criminally implicated? Or if the law is unclear, is not someone in the US government responsible for allowing this dangerous legal black hole to persist? Wake up, media.

Blackwater is implicated in killing dozens of people, but not one of the responsible employees has ever faced criminal investigation or prosecution. The US State Department is responsible for referring possible criminal actions by its contractors to the US Justice Department for possible criminal investigations and prosecutions. But it had never happened.

The only time the State Department asked the FBI to investigate was this week, two weeks after the incident that saw 17 Iraqis killed. The most likely reason for that very late FBI referral was to allow the State Department witnesses and the Committee Republicans to argue that since there was an “ongoing investigation,” the House Committee should not ask, and Administration officials should not answer, any questions about the recent killings. So every time the Committee tried to probe the incident, the State Department officials claimed they couldn’t answer the questions. Sound familiar?

Even in this highly sensitive case, State Department has dithered with joint investigations that haven’t even met. They’ve allegedly withheld evidence from Congressional investigators. In past cases, they’ve covered up incidents, and helped alleged perpetrators exit the country. It doesn’t take a criminal law expert to recognize that we’re looking at possible participation in a criminal coverup of multiple homicides by senior officials in the US State Department.

And if any in the media still think we’re doing something worthwhile by occupying Iraq with 160,000 troops and thousands of armed mercenaries, why are they not asking about the effect on the US military mission? Have our best-intentioned soldiers’ efforts to win over Iraqis been seriously undermined by what Iraqis undoubtedly see as unjustified killings of their citizens by reckless mercenaries, followed by indifference, lack of official accountability and even complicity by the highest levels of the US government?

Maybe it would help the media to think of having FEMA hire Blackwater to maintain “order” and protect FEMA officials from angry US citizens after a natural disaster and having them start recklessly shooting Americans, while Homeland Security officials looked the other way and covered it up. Would the media then be worried about whether it costs more to use mercenaries than soldiers?

Photo: Blackwater USA contractors actively involved in defending a position in 2004. The images were taken by Spanish freelance photographer Gervasio Sanchez and were made available to The Associated Press Tuesday, October 2, 2007. (AP Photo/Gervasio Sanchez)