Friday, April 06, 2007

The Air Force Won't Protect Its Own Against Blackwater Employees

You know that outsourcing of the government, AKA "privatization," has gone too far when the military can't even stand up to the contractors who seek retribution against military personnel. As reported by the Virginia-Pilot two Air Force Colonels were reprimanded for ruffling the feathers of Jimmy Bergeron, a Blackwater employee, following a traffic accident involving the Colonels and Bergeron in Kabul, Afghanistan. The two Colonels, Christopher Hall and Gary Brown, were reprimanded even though the officer that investigated the incident and took testimony from the witnesses, ruled that the Colonels followed all the rules of engagement. The investigating officer recommended that all charges be dropped.

How could that be? Well, could it be that Blackwater had something to do with it? The reprimands were issued by Lt Gen. Gary North, Commander of the 9th Air Force. When the Colonels received word of the reprimands,

Brown's civilian attorney has fired back with an angry letter, calling the sanctions a "laugh-out-loud joke" and suggesting that the general bowed to pressure from Blackwater, a private military company based in Moyock, N.C.

There is no doubt that a confrontation occurred. But,

At a hearing in February, Brown and Hall testified that Bergeron behaved aggressively and that they feared he was a suicide bomber.

The investigating officer who heard their testimony concluded that they properly followed the rules of engagement and recommended that the charges be dropped.

In a letter to North on Wednesday, Charles Gittins, Brown's civilian attorney, wrote that the reprimand flies in the face of the investigating officer's findings and "demonstrates your lack of moral courage to admit error and do the right thing:... apologize to two officers who were needlessly and without reason subjected to personal humiliation and torment...."

When an officer receives a reprimand of this sort it can be death to his career. Has the contracting community become so powerful that the military will not even protect its own? It would seem so. But it is also clear that this is not the end of the story. According to one of the Colonels' lawyers

"attempts were made to frame my client." He referred to the investigating officer's report that Afghan security guards who witnessed the confrontation said they were offered bribes to give false testimony about it.

The Air Force is investigating the allegations.

It's bad enough that the taxpayers get robbed when we outsource essential government functions. It is bad enough that the people who work for private contractors are often shortchanged on benefits and basic employee protections. And it is disgusting to see these private contractors pay obscene sums to their senior management. But have they gotten so powerful that even the United States military doesn't have the ability or will to stand up to them? If so, this does not portend well for the future.

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