Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blackwater Mercenaries Accused of Steroid Abuse

A civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the families of the individuals killed in the shooting incident on Sept. 16 in Nusoor Square, Baghdad, alleges that Blackwater guards were abusing steroids. The lawsuit, “Estate of Himoud Saed Atban, et al. v. Blackwater USA, et al.” (C.A. No. 07-1831), which was filed on October 11th in Washington DC by four families of persons killed in the shooting incident. However, the suit was amended on Monday Nov. 26th that included the allegations of steroid usage and "other judgment-altering substances". Page 8, Section 35 of the complaint states:

Blackwater routinely sends heavily-armed "shooters" into the streets of Baghdad with the knowledge that some of those "shooters" are chemically influenced by steroids and other judgment-altering substances. Reasonable discovery will establish that Blackwater knew that 25 percent or more of its "shooters" were ingesting steroids or other judgment-altering substances, yet failed to take effective steps to stop the drug use. Reasonable discovery will establish that Blackwater did not conduct any drug-testing of its "shooters" before sending them equipped with heavy weapons into the streets of Baghdad.
Blackwater spokesperson, Anne Tyrell told CNN that "All Blackwater personnel are drug tested during the screening process, before ever working for the company, and are subject to random testing, which is performed quarterly." She continued "Steroids and performance enhancing drugs (both illegal and prescribed) are absolutely in violation of our policy." Ms. Tyrell refused to comment on the lawsuit further. However, this comment could be true in both respects, yet still fails to address the question of whether Blackwater security personnel are tested directly for steroids. The most commonly used drug test used by most any group who performs them, is known as the NIDA-5, which only tests for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, PCP and some of their analogues and metabolites, but not any type of steroids. Normally, a test for steroids must be specifically ordered and is much more expensive than a typical test for commonly abused psychoactive drugs. Steroid tests are normally administered to athletes and in places where steroid abuse may be common, but is almost never used in a common workplace screening. Unfortunately, neither the document of the lawsuit nor Blackwater themselves identify publicly how and what type of drug tests they use. It appears that Blackwater's employee screening process is quite rigorous, at least currently. On Blackwater USA's corporate web site, there are job listing for "Contract Opportunities", one of which is listed as "Personal Security Specialist(PSS)". Requirements are listed as:

# Must be willing and able to deploy for 6 months.
# Must have solid experience in the US Military or Sworn Law Enforcement
# Must be a U.S. Citizen, proof of citizenship is required.
# Weight must be proportionate to height.
# Must maintain a neat and clean appearance.
# Must be in good health and pass a physical test.
# Most positions require ability to obtain/maintain a secret or higher clearance.
# No history of major illness or mental disorder.
# Must have an Honorable Discharge and DD-214.
# No felony, violent crimes, spouse or child abuse convictions(NO WAIVERS)
# No personal bankruptcy or significant credit problems with past seven (7) years.

Susan Burke, of Burke O’Neil LLC, one of the lawyers for the defendants, stated to CNN:

"The reality is that Blackwater has indeed fired people for steroid use, so they're on clear notice that there's steroid use," Burke said. She said Blackwater has marketed the idea "that their people are kind of tougher and bigger than anybody else," and has turned a blind eye toward "serious, repeated situations of excessive use of force."
However, as most familiar with steroid usage know, and as previously discussed on Pogue's Blog, the link between steroids and violence is more of an urban legend than reality, and studies have shown that there is little to no causative link between the use of testosterone and aggression in mentally stable males. But, there are several other interesting allegations made in the lawsuit that security personnel of Blackwater may not only be predisposed to violence, but chosen and trained for it. Page 10 and 11 of the amended lawsuit claim that Blackwater hired individuals who were previously associated with the Chilean military, presumably those who served under former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, as well as other third world countries run by dictators or military juntas. The lawsuit also mentions other previous incidents were Blackwater personnel were involved with acts of violence and killing in Iraq that went unpunished.

Blackwater itself has been under much scrutiny almost from the start of the war in Iraq. On March 31, 2004, four Blackwater American security contractors were killed in Fallujah, their bodies burned and then hung from a bridge, in what became a very well known international incident that some viewed as resulting in negligence on the part of Blackwater. Families of the contractors have also sued Blackwater, in the case Helvenston et al. v. Blackwater Security. This incident, as well as the use of military contractors in Iraq was profiled in the documentary by Brave New Films titled Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers. The film alleges that after the incident in Fallujah, Blackwater went on to profit $221.4 million in US contracts in 2004 alone. The current lawsuit filed against Blackwater for the Nusoor Square incident alleges that they have made more than one billion dollars for their contracts with the United States. It's a very interesting film, and it is available to watch in it's entirety on Google Video through the link above.

What else, if any, "judgment-altering substances" that Blackwater employees may have been using has yet to come to light. The American public can only hope that this case, however long it may take, will go all the way through a court process to determine what mistakes and possible cover-ups Blackwater and their associates may have been involved with. But, unfortunately, as with most cases, it is likely to be settled out of court with no resolution or closure being reached for anyone except for the lawyers.

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