- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Rep. Henry A. Waxman’s congressional panel heard accusations yesterday of “war profiteering” leveled against military contractor Blackwater USA by the families of security workers killed in Iraq.

“They did not protect my son,” said Donna Zovko, mother of Jerry Zovko, a former Army Ranger who with three other Blackwater bodyguards was killed and mutilated by a Fallujah mob in a widely televised attack in March 2004.

“Blackwater did him wrong — very, very wrong,” Mrs. Zovko said in tearful testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is holding a series of hearings that Democrats promised into waste, fraud and abuse in federal spending.

Mr. Waxman, California Democrat and chairman of the committee, said the grieving family members showed that “the impacts of contracting waste go beyond just dollars and cents.”

“They believe Blackwater sent their relatives into Fallujah unprepared,” he said. “Their experience tells them that taxpayer dollars never reached the security personnel on the ground. They believe that the money for protective equipment took a back seat to … contractor profits.”

The families contend that Blackwater did not fulfill commitments to equip its security workers with armored vehicles and deploy them in six-man teams, with each vehicle carrying three men, including one armed with a machine gun.

A Blackwater official later testified that they “did not skimp on equipment” and that the team in Fallujah was outfitted according to the perceived threat at the time.

“Blackwater professionals — most of whom are military veterans — voluntarily go in harm’s way at the request, direction and control of the United States government,” said Andrew Howell, the company’s general counsel. “Losing our teammates is the hardest reality of our profession.”

He told the lawmakers that Blackwater likely would provide some of their security if they visited Iraq.

The families have brought a wrongful-death lawsuit in North Carolina against Blackwater and have hired lawyers with Democratic ties.

Republicans said the lawsuit tainted the hearing.

“It appears to be an overt conflict of interest,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and a committee member. “It’s a 100-percent Waxman panel.”

Mr. Waxman said he agreed that it would be inappropriate for his committee to aid a private lawsuit, but said accusations that Blackwater underequipped workers and possibly overcharged the U.S. government warranted congressional inquiry.

“We need to ask questions even if a lawsuit is pending,” he said. “I’ve been working on this issue for years, and it is time we get some answers.”

Daniel J. Callahan, a California lawyer representing the families, sent a Dec. 13 letter to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who subsequently became House speaker, requesting a hearing on Blackwater, which the letter described as an “extremely Republican” company.

“We look forward to the New Direction of America, and to your dedication to putting an end to the fleecing of the American Taxpayers and death to its citizens in the name of war profiteers such as Blackwater,” Mr. Callahan said in the letter.

Mr. Issa produced a copy of the letter at the hearing and entered it into the record. He also noted that the North Carolina lawyer in the case is David Kirby, former law partner of Democratic presidential candidate and former senator John Edwards.

Assertions that political connections spurred the hearing are “absolutely absurd,” said Marc P. Miles, a lawyer with Mr. Callahan’s firm.

“The hearings are not driven by the lawsuit, but instead by the desire of the families to find the truth,” he said.

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