Monday, October 22, 2007

Interview airs today on APM's "The Story with Dick Gordon"

Check out my interview on American Public Media's "The Story with Dick Gordon" on Blackwater and US foreign policy. You can download the podcast from the link. It airs on over 50 NPR stations across the country.

Monday, October 22

Ahmed's Diary
People in Baghdad are still talking about what happened on September 16 - the day an incident involving the private security company Blackwater USA left at least 17 Iraqis dead. Ahmed Abdullah visited the scene in Nisour Square and talked to witnesses. One witness, an Iraqi soldier, told Ahmed that he tried to get Blackwater personnel to help the wounded. Instead, one of them took aim at the man and shot him in the chest.

Surviving Blackwater
Janessa Gans
Janessa Gans had regular contact with the private security company, Blackwater. Between 2003 and 2005 she was working in Iraq, and on many of her trips around the country she traveled in vehicles driven by Blackwater contractors. Janessa talks to Dick about both the professionalism and recklessness she experienced firsthand.

In her opinion, every time a Blackwater convoy passed through an Iraqi town, the company lowered the reputation of the United States in the eyes of Iraqis.

The job of a contractor
Ken Sherrod went to Iraq for the first time as a soldier with the Air Guard Reserves. When he got the opportunity to go back as a private contractor in 2004, he took it. Ken spoke with Dick in April of 2006, when he had just returned after working for 2 years as a military contractor in Iraq. While he was there, Ken had to get a client to the airport - an extremely risky assignment. The vehicle he was in was shot at, but Ken got lucky: the bullets missed him by a few inches. Despite the many dangers, Ken said he'd be willing to go back.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Op-ed Receives National Media Attention

It's been a busy week and a half with all of the media attention generated by the LA Times oped on Blackwater. I've received requests for interviews from CNN, CBS, NPR, Democracy Now, and Radio Netherlands.

So far, the CBS Evening News and Democracy Now pieces have aired. Here are links if you'd like to read or view...

CBS video link

Here's the transcript of the CBS video.

(CBS) Janessa Gans, a former U.S. official who served in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, often traveled around Iraq in a Blackwater convoy.

After the Blackwater shooting incident on September 16 in Baghdad's Nisour Square that left as many as 17 Iraqis dead, she wrote an angry letter to the Los Angeles Times saying that Blackwater's aggression on many occasions had undermined the diplomatic work she was trying to accomplish in Iraq.

"We would careen around corners, jump road dividers, reach speeds in excess of 100 mph and often cross over to the wrong side of the street, oncoming traffic be damned," she wrote.

"I began to wonder whether my meetings, intended to further U.S. policy goals and improve the lives of Iraqis, were doing more harm than good ... how many enemies were we creating?"

CBS News found Janessa Gans safely back in the U.S., teaching political science at Principia College in Illinois.

This is an edited transcript of our interview with her:

CBS: When you heard about the shooting in Nisour Square on September 16th, were you surprised?

Gans: Frankly, I was surprised at how long it had taken the Iraqi government to be upset about the activities of Blackwater inside their country. During my more than two years in Iraq, I saw first-hand the aggressive tactics of Blackwater in the streets, and I wondered why is the Iraqi government not speaking up about this?

CBS: What was it like to be a passenger in a Blackwater convoy?

Gans: Well it just felt like you were suiting up to go on a roller coaster. I remember just telling myself, "Just pretend it's a roller coaster ... rolls and flips and jumping over barriers." It was just uncomfortable ride - always fast, all the time.

CBS: Were Blackwater guards especially aggressive?

Gans: Well I did ride with other companies, and my personal experience was that Blackwater was the most aggressive.

You want the biggest, meanest guys protecting you [in a war zone] and they do their jobs very well most of the time. Think of their 100 percent success rate ... no diplomats in their care killed.

During my more than two years in Iraq, I saw first-hand the aggressive tactics of Blackwater in the streets, and I wondered why is the Iraqi government not speaking up about this?

Janessa GansI was grateful on a daily basis for protection from Blackwater - without which I could not have gone to meetings or done my work, but I think that softer tactics would have been appropriate.

I'm very pro-military. My brother was a Navy SEAL for 10 years and my father was in the Air Force. It's just that these guys were making my job harder.

Their approach was "We're getting you from Point A to Point B - and nothing will stand in our way. And if there's a hint of anyone approaching, we view that as a terrorist threat or a possible decoy and we will do what it takes to remove the obstacle."

If the sole mission was to get me safely from A to B, then they were 100% successful, and correct - but the mission was larger: to improve the lives of Iraqis and achieve peace and stability.

If the Iraqis' only contact with Americans was with aggressive convoys of security contractors - with guns, speeding around, delaying their traffic and pelting them with water bottles, damaging their cars - then certainly their image of the United States was not going to be positive.

CBS: Did you ever protest to Blackwater?

Gans: I did in one incident in which it seemed obvious that there was a family in a car driving in front of us. They were clearly not terrorists. They couldn't get out of the way in time and so we forced them off the road. And I thought, "Was that necessary?"

I asked one guard if he thought their tactics might be creating more terrorists. He had never considered that possibility. He'd just never thought of it that way before.

For Democracy Now:

You can watch it on their site. or on youtube

Will keep you posted on other interviews to air soon! Meanwhile, I'm working on my next oped entitled, "Blackwater Not Black and White", an attempt to bring more substance into the Blackwater conversation. Blackwater is not the enemy; it's a symptom of a larger problem of the US's undue focus on the narrow mission of force protection when the conflict demands a larger view of the mission to win "hearts and minds", not alienate the population, and win the war. There are lots of qualities and tactics that go into winning this larger battle that we need to develop in our military, in our private security contractors, and our diplomats.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Controversy over LA Times Op-ed

Just wanted to share two of my favorites of the many, many emails I've received to date about my op-ed in Saturday's LA Times, entitled "I Survived Blackwater".

It's not the first time I've mentioned something about the effect our actions have on the lives of Iraqis. My two other op-eds all concentrated on the same issue, yet they garnered very little attention.

The Blackwater issue is highly sensationalized and unfortunately for the firm, has become the scapegoat for American frustrations about the war in Iraq.

So, on the with fanmail (or not),


We met briefly in Baghdad when I arrived. I read your LA times op-ed, which was linked to Talking Points Memo. I'm glad you published it - at least three Iraqi colleagues of mine have been either shot at or forced off the road by private security contractors, in separate incidents. Every Iraqi I know - even very pro-American Kurdish friends - fear these security companies and resent their presence. Certainly, those of us in the NGO world are uniformly upset about the damage groups like Blackwater do and we question the need to use them rather than US soldiers or marines.




I just read your October 6, 2007 piece on How silly can you get? You didn’t mention your idiotic concerns to your protectors until..... Wow Sweetie!!!!

However you’re alive and well and enjoying life right here in good old America after having spent some time in Iraq. How do you think that happened? Was it a matter of chance? Is it possible that Blackwater did what it takes to keep your sorry backside alive?

It is too bad that Blackwater couldn’t have played a game of security ping pong with your security, that is the kind of security game you support, without also endangering their own lives and failing to meet their commitments so that if someone hadn’t been able to survive and return it would have been just you. That sounds really fair to me.

I think its a boy thing so I don’t believe that you will ever be able to really understand. You are, after all, a girl and you really didn’t belong where you were in the first place. It was a place for men, not girls. OH I KNOW!!! WHAT A TERRIBLE THOUGHT!!!

I suggest you continue to study political “science” whatever kind of “science” that is, and get your hair and nails done frequently or perhaps you could get a tattoo or have a hole drilled in your lips or some other part of our body so you can appropriately express whatever it is those kinds of things display.

I would suggest you also get married and have children but I am not really sure children is a good idea. Who knows what you would teach them.

However, you could marry a guy that gets a vasectomy. You wouldn’t even have to use any other forms of birth control to keep from adding to the world population. I mean, how modern can you get?

Ta Ta Sweetie,