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Blackwater official is Romney adviser

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0907/5968.html Romney silent on Blackwater shooting By: Kenneth P. Vogel Sep 22, 2007 08:52 AM EST Mitt Romney has
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 22, 2007
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      http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0907/5968.html

      Romney silent on Blackwater shooting

      By: Kenneth P. Vogel
      Sep 22, 2007 08:52 AM EST

      Mitt Romney has remained mum on the alleged killing of
      11 Iraqis by a company where one of his top advisers
      serves as vice chairman, even as the case has led to
      an uproar in Baghdad and Washington. Barack Obama,
      John McCain and other politicians have raised the
      possibility of tighter controls on the firm.

      The top counterterrorism and national security adviser
      to Romney’s presidential campaign is Cofer Black, vice
      chairman of Blackwater USA. The Iraqis died after
      guards employed by the private security firm opened
      fire following an alleged attack on a State Department
      convoy under their protection. Blackwater has a
      lucrative contract to guard U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

      Blackwater has said its employees acted “lawfully and
      appropriately” in response to the attack. But Iraqi
      Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim
      Khalaf has said a report found that the security
      guards opened fire first on Iraqis who were driving in
      their cars. And the incident has prompted a noisy
      debate over the role of independent security
      contractors in Iraq — a debate Romney thus far appears
      to be steering clear of.

      The shooting renewed critics’ allegations that U.S.
      security contractors, in general, and Blackwater, in
      particular, are basically unregulated mercenary armies
      deployed by the U.S. government on the streets of
      Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. And the policy
      discussion sparked by the incident may begin to color
      the debate over troop levels in Iraq, a topic that’s
      played prominently in the presidential race.

      “There is no way you can have a rational discussion of
      troop redeployment without discussing how contract
      employees are going to be a part of that equation,”
      said a senior Republican congressional source who has
      worked on security contractor issues. “There’s
      consensus on both sides that additional oversight of
      these contractors is necessary. This is going to be a
      front-burner issue now as we begin to discuss safe,
      responsible redeployment and as we continue to learn
      more about incidents involving private security
      contractors.”

      But Romney’s campaign has declined to answer specific
      questions posed by Politico about issues central to
      the debate – issues now being hashed out by Congress,
      the State Department and the Iraqi government.

      Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who has
      emerged as a leading candidate for the GOP
      presidential nomination, has touted his executive
      experience leading an equity firm, the 2002 Olympic
      Winter Games and a large state government. His
      relative lack of foreign policy and military
      experience has not bogged down his campaign.

      It’s become de rigueur for campaigns to assemble teams
      of experts to advise candidates and bolster their bona
      fides, particularly on their weaker issues. In tapping
      Black as a senior adviser to the campaign, Romney said
      in an April statement: “Black’s experience at the
      forefront of our nation's counterterrorism efforts
      will be a tremendous asset.” And three days before the
      Blackwater shootings, Romney announced Black would
      lead the campaign’s 10-member counterterrorism policy
      group.

      Black served nearly 30 years in the CIA, eventually
      heading its counterterrorism efforts and later those
      of the State Department, before joining Blackwater in
      2005 as vice chairman.

      After the shooting, though, a Romney spokesman would
      not say whether Black has advised Romney on the use of
      security contractors in Iraq. Nor would he elaborate
      on Black’s role in the campaign or answer specific
      questions about whether the U.S.’s level of oversight
      over security contractors is adequate.

      The spokesman directed questions to Blackwater, whose
      spokeswoman did not return telephone and e-mail
      messages.

      Under a 2004 provision, security contractors are
      immune from prosecution under Iraqi laws. But Defense
      Department security contractors are subject to
      military rules and most are licensed by the Iraqi
      Interior Ministry. That is not the case for
      Blackwater, which is paid by the State Department.

      After the shooting, the State Department formed a
      commission with Iraqi officials to assess the role of
      security contractors. And members of Congress called
      for tougher oversight of the contractors and
      questioned whether Blackwater in particular was
      hurting the U.S. cause in Iraq.

      An aide to Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), the ranking
      Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said
      he supports “greater oversight of private security
      contractors including imposing more robust reporting
      requirements as part of their contracts.”

      Hunter, who is running a long-shot campaign for the
      GOP presidential nomination, appears to be the only
      presidential candidate to have accepted contributions
      from Blackwater executives, which is somewhat
      surprising given that company chairman Erik Prince has
      given more than $230,000 to Republican candidates and
      committees. The $2,000 Hunter received from company
      president Gary Jackson and Prince was for his
      congressional campaign.

      Hunter’s aide said his boss thinks it's premature to
      consider sanctioning Blackwater or ending its contract
      “until all of the facts of the incident are known.”

      Provisions added to the Pentagon’s budget in the
      Senate Armed Services Committee could bring security
      contractors in Iraq under the Uniform Code of Military
      Justice and give the Defense Department authority over
      them, even if they’re working for the State Department
      or other agencies.

      Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the committee’s top
      Republican, is vying with Romney for the GOP
      nomination. McCain “is open to measures that
      reasonably and rationally improve upon the good work
      of the” committee, according to Melissa Shuffield, his
      spokeswoman.

      Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, among the leading
      contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination,
      introduced legislation in February that would tighten
      regulations for security contractors in Iraq and
      Afghanistan.

      And on Friday, he told Democratic colleagues he was
      “disturbed” by the Blackwater shooting, after which he
      wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking whether
      the Pentagon had investigated earlier shootings by
      Blackwater employees. His letter expressed concern
      “about the impact of this incident – and similar
      incidents – on our overall effort to end the war in
      Iraq.” And he wondered whether “turning over such
      armed functions in a war zone to contractors outside
      the chain of command … is actually hurting, rather
      than helping, our counter-insurgency efforts,
      especially in winning local hearts and minds.”

      Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) also would like to
      question Blackwater. He sent a letter Thursday asking
      Prince to testify Oct. 2 before the House Oversight
      and Government Reform Committee Waxman chairs.
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