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Ex-U.S. Official in Iraq on Iraqi Efforts to Ban Blackwater: “I Was Surprised It Had Taken This Long”

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Janessa Gans was guarded by Blackwater guards during her two years in Iraq as a U.S. official. Asked about Iraqi efforts to remove Blackwater, she says: “I was surprised it had taken this long.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring into this conversation Janessa Gans. She is a former U.S. official who worked in Iraq from 2003 to 2005. Well, on Saturday, she published an article, an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times called “I Survived Blackwater,” talking about her experiences with Blackwater in Iraq.

Janessa Gans, talk about what it was like to be, well, guarded by Blackwater.

JANESSA GANS: Well, I was frequently the beneficiary of Blackwater rides through downtown Baghdad, and it was a roller coaster ride, to say the least. You’re crammed in the back of an armored Suburban with your body armor and helmet on. And you’re holding on for dear life, basically, as we careened around corners in excess of speeds of a hundred miles an hour and jumped across road divides and stopped to pelt cars with water bottles and then often pointed guns at them. So — and to say the least, Baghdad’s roads are not the nicest or the smoothest, so it’s a bumpy ride to begin with. So it felt very much like a roller coaster.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You mention in your article one particular ride in the town of Erbil, where they actually — the Blackwater security group in front of you actually rammed a civilian car?

JANESSA GANS: Yeah, that was the most poignant and infuriating incident for me, because we were approaching this car — it was clearly a family in front of us, an older gentleman driving and probably his wife beside him and his three children in the back seat — and as we approached, I just saw the children’s eyes get wider and wider and their mouths agape with terror, and we started honking furiously, because in our speeds, we didn’t want any obstacles in our way to get from point A to point B, and there was really nowhere for them to go, because it was a very narrow road. And as we were swerving to kind of go around them, we hit their car into the barrier on the side of the road, because they didn’t get over in time.

And I just was so shocked that this was an innocent family puttering down the road. Was it really necessary to damage their vehicle? Were they such a threat? And the answer I got back was even more disturbing, that this was a product of their training. “Ma’am, we’re viewed to see any obstacle, any vehicle, as a possible terrorist decoy, as a threat, and that’s what we do. We’re completing our mission to get you from point A to point B, and that’s our job.”

AMY GOODMAN: Janessa Gans, what were you doing in Iraq? And could the Iraqis distinguish between U.S. soldiers and Blackwater guards?

JANESSA GANS: I was not often — I only rode in the military convoy a couple of times, and the stance was very different from those couple of experiences between Blackwater. But more importantly, I rode frequently with other private security contractors that adopted a low-profile stance, and they did not go with sirens and honking and these three armored suburban convoys escorted by two armored Humvees. They blended into the traffic, into the population, sometimes with unarmored cars disguised as taxicabs or as beat-up Mercedes. And they weren’t such an affront or an antagonism to the population.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And so, your sense was that even among the other contractors — we’ve already heard about how the U.S. military has such a negative outlook on Blackwater — but that even other contractors viewed them this way?

JANESSA GANS: Sorry. Even other contractors were viewed the same as Blackwater?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: No, that other security companies also saw Blackwater as unusual or different in their approach, more aggressive in their approach.

JANESSA GANS: Right. They did have that reputation, as being the most aggressive and the most elite. So I was — I’m familiar with that, with that attitude. My brother was a Navy SEAL for 10 years, and they just knew that they were the best of the best and they had the most resources. They were the most well-paid. So it just — I think that blended in with this aggressive stance that they adopted, as well.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your reaction when you heard that the Iraqi government was calling for them to be removed from the country?

JANESSA GANS: I actually was surprised that it had taken this long. You know, I used to often think, well, I benefited personally so much from their protection and their security and without which I could have not done my job, but I used to think if there were foreign armed convoys going through my streets every day, delaying traffic, if I got anywhere too close, I would be pelted with water bottles or have guns pointed at me, I would have piped up right away and made a complaint. So I’m just surprised that they waited this long.

AMY GOODMAN: Janessa Gans, I want to thank you for being with us, U.S. official in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, now a visiting political science professor at Principia College.

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