Chairman of House oversight panel wants to know what the State Department did to alert the Pentagon to 2006 shooting incident.
A key House Democrat wants the State Department to explain how a former Blackwater USA employee, accused in the shooting death of a guard for the Iraqi vice president, was reportedly hired by a Defense Department contractor only weeks later.
On Friday, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a harshly worded letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, demanding documents and personnel records relating to Andrew Moonen.
A former Army paratrooper, Moonen has been identified as the Blackwater contractor responsible for fatally shooting a 32-year-old bodyguard in Baghdad's Green Zone on Dec. 24, 2006. Moonen reportedly had been drinking at a Christmas Eve party earlier that evening.
Moonen told Army investigators that the victim, Raheem Khalif, opened fire on him first. The Justice Department is investigating the incident and Moonen has not been charged with any crime.
Congressional investigators said Blackwater arranged for the State Department to remove Moonen from Iraq within 36 hours of the shooting. He was later fired for "violating alcohol and firearm policy," denied an expected bonus and forced to pay for his flight back to the United States. Blackwater also paid $20,000 to Khalif's family.
"We fired him. We fined him. But we . . . can't do any more," said Erik Prince, chairman and chief executive officer of Blackwater, during a hearing before the committee last week. "We can't flog him. We can't incarcerate him. That's up to the Justice Department. We are not empowered to enforce U.S. law."
Price testified that he had taken steps to ensure that Moonen's security clearance was canceled so he "would never work in a clearance capacity for the U.S. government again."
But, on Friday, CNN reported that less than two months after returning to the United States, Moonen began working for Combat Support Associates, a Defense Department contractor that operates in Kuwait. The report indicated Moonen worked for the company from February to August of this year.
According to its Web site, Combat Support Associates' assignments range from "maintaining tactical equipment such as tanks, to supporting information systems, to conducting force-on-force and live-fire exercise and training programs, to providing security, environmental services, rations, uniforms and even barbed wire, as well as organizing recreational programs and special events for soldiers."
Neither the company nor the Defense Department responded to requests for comment. In his letter, Waxman suggested that the State Department may have buried information about the shooting, keeping it out of Moonen's personnel records and opening the door for his employment at Combat Support Associates.
"This report . . . raises obvious concerns about the actions of the State Department and Blackwater," Waxman wrote. "It is hard to reconcile this development with the State Department's claim that 'We are scrupulous in terms of oversight and scrutiny not only of Blackwater but all of our contractors.'"
By noon on Friday, Waxman wants Rice to turn over all documents and communication related to the shooting and subsequent payment to Khalif's family, and the State Department's efforts to revoke Moonen's security clearance and notify the Pentagon or other government contractors about the incident. Waxman indicated he also would be requesting documents from Combat Support Associates.
State Department spokeswoman Leslie Phillips would not comment on the contents of the letter, saying only that the agency would "respond to requests in an appropriate manner."
Moonen's attorney, meanwhile, denied that his client returned to Iraq after the Christmas Eve shooting, although he would not comment on reports of Moonen's employment with Combat Support Associates.
In an interview, the attorney, Stewart Riley, said members of the media and lawmakers have "rushed to judgment," convicting his client in the court of public opinion. He has complained to Waxman's office but said he did not receive a satisfactory response.
"I am concerned that the current climate will put an extreme amount of pressure on American authorities to do something they might not have if not for the controversy," Riley said.
Moonen cannot be charged in Iraqi courts. A bill recently passed by the House would place similar incidents under the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. The measure (H.R. 2740) would allow federal prosecutors to charge U.S. contractors for crimes committed in overseas war zones.
A resident of Seattle, Moonen was a member of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division from April 2002 through April 2005. He served for seven months in Iraq, from September 2003 to April 2004. CNN said the Army attempted to recall Moonen for active duty in April but canceled the request after discovering he already was working overseas.