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Oversight Panel Chronicles Alleged Blackwater Abuses

Democratic aides on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are experts at framing a hearing, and they didn't pull any punches for Blackwater USA.

The committee released a 15-page memo Monday afternoon, on the eve of a Tuesday hearing about Blackwater, chronicling a string of alleged abuses by the security firm in its work for the State Department since 2003.

Blackwater has been involved in 195 "escalation of force" incidents since 2005 in which guards for the firm fired shots, according to the report. Contractors for the firm fired the first shots in an overwhelming majority of those incidents.

Documents released by the State Department also suggest the agency allowed Blackwater to fly a contractor out of Iraq shortly after that contractor, during a drunken episode, shot a guard for the Iraqi vice president. A State Department official even recommended the firm pay the dead guard's family $250,000 as an "apology" to "avoid this whole thing becoming even worse."  The firm, in coordination with State, finally settled on a payment of $15,000.

The committee has also determined that Blackwater pays its contractors, many of whom are former U.S. soldiers, $1,222 per day, which comes to $445,000-a-year - "roughly six times more than the cost of an equivalent U.S. soldier," according to the report. The firm has received more than $1 billion in federal contracts since 2001, including more than $832 million from two contracts with the State Department.

The committee's stated goal is to determine whether a State Department contract with Blackwater is undermining the overall U.S. mission in Iraq and whether the department has "responded appropriately to shooting incidents" involving the security firm. The committee is also trying to gauge what U.S. taxpayers pay for Blackwater services.

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