Blackwater on defensive in Congress
(Reuters) U.S. security contractor Blackwater defended its role in Iraq on Tuesday but skeptical lawmakers took aim at the company over a series of incidents, including a September 16 shooting that killed 11 Iraqis.
In a testy, partisan hearing, Democrats denounced the private contractor for ruthless, aggressive behavior. The State Department came under fire too with Republican Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia accusing it of "blind spots" in its oversight of Blackwater .
Blackwater founder and ex-Navy SEAL Erik Prince rejected suggestions his security team "acted like cowboys" and told the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that anyone who acted inappropriately was fired.
"There has been a rush to judgment based on inaccurate information, and many public reports have wrongly pronounced Blackwater's guilt for the deaths of varying numbers of civilians," Prince said, adding his staff had acted "appropriately" in the September 16 incident.
Iraq's government has been strongly critical of Blackwater and called the shooting incident a crime.
Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, said there were serious questions about Blackwater's performance and the September 16 shooting was just the latest in a number of "troubling" incidents.
" Blackwater will be accountable," Waxman told the committee before several Republicans asked for the hearing to be adjourned, a motion outvoted by the Democrats.
Blackwater , which has received U.S. government contracts worth more than a billion dollars since 2001, is under intense scrutiny over its security work in Iraq, where Prince said the North Carolina firm had about 1,000 personnel.