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Blackwater USA threatens to sue critic Print
Rowan Scarborough, The Examiner - Apr 3, 2007

WASHINGTON - Blackwater USA, a private security firm whose operations in Iraq are getting congressional scrutiny, has threatened legal action against one of its critics.

The company's warning to defense attorney Charles Gittins stems from a criminal case in Afghanistan in which an Air Force officer subdued a Blackwater body guard he thought might be a suicide bomber. Gittins, who represents the officer, is quoted in news interviews as saying Blackwater might have had a role in a faking a disputed video tape of the incident at a U.S. embassy check point.
Blackwater's threat of legal action came from Joseph E. Schmitz, at one time the Pentagon's top internal investigator when he served as inspector general. In 2005, he resigned to become general counsel for Prince Group, Blackwater's parent company.

"Blackwater hereby demands that you cease and desist from any further false or misleading comments about either [Jimmy Bergeron, the security guard] or Blackwater associated with your client's ongoing Article 32 proceedings," Schmitz wrote in his letter to Gittins, a copy of which The Examiner obtained. "Your refusal to cease and desist from making any further extrajudicial pejorative statements ..... will constitute willful and malicious conduct for purposes of establishing liability."

Gittins, a former Marine officer, replied, "Let me assure you that none of the comments I have made have been false or misleading. I am not in the habit of mincing words and I generally speak in short, declarative sentences."

Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have raised the profile of Blackwater, which has come to symbolize the tens of thousands of ex-military personnel who work as contractors in the war zones. A book on these private armies, entitled "Blackwater," will debut on the New York Times Best Seller List this Sunday. Blackwater, founded by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince, says it has 2,300 employees deployed in nine countries.

With increased wartime contracts has come more scrutiny of Blackwater by Congress. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform conducted a hearing last month on the gruesome deaths of four Blackwater guards in an infamous March 2004 ambush in Fallujah, west of Baghdad. The victims' relatives have filed suit against Blackwater, accusing it of failing to provide adequate body armor, vehicles and weapons.

Gittins is defending Lt. Col. Gary Brown, whom the Air Force charged with assault and conduct unbecoming an officer.

A military hearing officer earlier this month recommended all charges be dropped. Brown's commanding officer later concurred. The disputed video, which the Air Force presented as evidence, did not match the accounts given by witnesses, the hearing officer concluded.
 
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