Daily Archives: October 7, 2007

Funeral directors ‘sold corpses for cash’

London Times | Oct 6, 2007

by Chris Ayres

America’s bodysnatching trade was exposed in gruesome detail yesterday when three funeral directors were charged with selling corpses for $1,000 (£500) apiece so that their bones, tissue and skin could be transplanted into unsuspecting hospital patients around the world. The funeral directors are accused of forging death certificates to say that the cause of death was either a heart attack or blunt-force trauma, so that the body parts could be sold on.

At least one of the “donors” was HIV-positive and suffered from hepatitis C and cancer.

After a 16-month investigation, a grand jury in Philadelphia said that 244 bodies were sold to a former oral surgeon in Brooklyn, who allegedly ran a team of “cutters” to remove the most lucrative parts. The surgeon, Michael Mastromarino – whose former company was called Biomedical Tissue Services – is already facing charges in New York for plundering 1,077 bodies, including the 244 from Philadelphia.

Other funeral directors in New York have already pleaded guilty as part of the same investigation – including one man whose funeral home allegedly removed parts from the body of the late broadcaster Alistair Cooke and replaced them with plastic plumbing materials.

“No penalty is too harsh for these guys, for the just unbelievably craven nature of what they did,” said Lynne Abraham, the Philadelphia District Attorney. The funeral directors are Louis Garzone, 65; his younger brother, Gerald Garzone, 47; and James McCafferty, 37. They were arrested this week on thousands of counts ranging from running a corrupt organisation to forgery and theft of body parts.

Also indicted was Mr Mastromarino, who lost his oral surgery licence amid unrelated drug charges; and Lee Cruceta, a former nurse who allegedly ran his macabre “cutting” crew. Mr Mastromarino plans to surrender himself to the authorities in Philadelphia next week.

“He was victimised by the funeral directors,” Mario Gallucci, his defence lawyer, claimed yesterday. “The funeral directors were in charge of getting consent. All he was supposed to do was come and harvest the tissue and send the samples down to the processors.”

The victims of the bodysnatching operation are said to be mostly poor familes who thought that their relatives were being cremated quickly. In fact their bodies were often left unrefrigerated for days, sometimes in alleys beside the funeral home, until a “cutter” arrived.

“One of the ‘cutters’ said it was like the back of a butcher shop, it was so dirty,” Ms Abraham said.

However, because of the forged death certificates, the true identities of only 48 of the 244 bodies are known. The bodysnatching ring also lowered the donors’ ages and changed their dates of death to make it appear that their body parts were more fresh, it is claimed.

According to the grand jury’s 111-page indictment, Biomedical Tissue Services sold the stolen body parts to treat burns and replace broken bones, among other things, with the transactions taking place between February 2004 and September 2005.

The three funeral directors were taken into custody this week. None has so far made a public statement.

The lawyer acting for Mr Cruceta said yesterday: “I’ve yet to be shown a single shred of evidence that he knew what was going on.”

Mr Mastromarino, meanwhile, is already fighting the charges against him in New York.

Sheriff’s deputy goes on shooting rampage killing 6 people

Associated Press | Oct 7, 2007


CRANDON, Wis. – An off-duty sheriff’s deputy went on a shooting rampage at a home early Sunday in northern Wisconsin, killing six people and injuring a seventh before authorities fatally shot him, officials said.

The suspect was 20 years old and worked full-time as a Forest County deputy sheriff and part-time as a Crandon police officer, Sheriff Keith Van Cleve said. He would not release the suspect’s name but said he was not working at the time of the shooting.

A seventh shooting victim was in critical condition at a hospital in nearby Marshfield, said Police Chief John Dennee. A Crandon police officer who fired back was treated for minor injuries and released.

Gary Bradley, mayor of the city of about 2,000, said earlier Sunday that the suspect had been brought down by a sniper, but Van Cleve would not confirm that officers shot the suspect.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the suspect’s motive was. The shooting occurred in a white, two-story duplex about a block from downtown Crandon.

One of the dead was 14-year-old Lindsey Stahl, said her mother, Jenny Stahl, 39.

She said her daughter called her Saturday night and asked whether she could sleep over at a friend’s house. Jenny Stahl agreed.

“I’m waiting for somebody to wake me up right now. This is a bad, bad dream,” the weeping mother said. “All I heard it was a jealous boyfriend and he went berserk. He took them all out.”

The State Patrol and the Crandon Fire Department detoured a steady stream of traffic from two blocks of U.S. Highway 8 in the downtown area. Some residents stood in nearby front yards.

Marci Franz, 35, who lives two houses south of the duplex, said gunshots awoke her.

“I heard probably five or six shots, a short pause and then five or six more,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if it was gunfire initially. I thought some kids were messing around and hitting a nearby metal building.”

Then she heard eight louder shots and tires squealing, she said.

“I was just about to get up and call it in, and I heard sirens,” she said. “There’s never been a tragedy like this here. There’s been individual incidents, but nothing of this magnitude.”

The sheriff said he would meet with state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen on Monday morning to discuss the case. Dennee said the state Department of Criminal Investigation will handle the case because the suspect was a deputy and officer.

The Crandon School District called off classes Monday.

The community, about 225 miles north of Milwaukee in an area known for logging and outdoor activities, is facing a trying time but is pulling together, Bradley said.

“We are a strong community. We always have been,” he said. “This is agonizing, but we will prevail.”

Secret cremations hide Burma killings

Sunday Times | Oct 7, 2007

THE Burmese army has burnt an undetermined number of bodies at a crematorium sealed off by armed guards northeast of Rangoon over the past seven days, ensuring that the exact death toll in the recent pro-democracy protests will never be known.

The secret cremations have been reported by local people who have seen olive green trucks covered with tarpaulins rumbling through the area at night and watched smoke rising continuously from the furnace chimneys.

They say they have watched soldiers in steel helmets blocking off roads to the municipal crematorium and threatening people who poke their heads out of windows overlooking the roads after the 10pm curfew.

Their accounts have been volunteered to international officials and aid workers in Rangoon, Burma’s main city. The consensus in the foreign community is that the consistency of the stories makes them credible.

“There has been no attempt to identify the dead, to return the bodies to their families or to give them even the minimum Buddhist religious rites,” said a foreign official who has collated information on the toll of dead and injured from a wide variety of sources.

Horrifying rumours are sweeping the city that some of those cremated were severely injured people thrust into the ovens alive, but these have been treated with extreme caution by independent observers and have not been verified.

However, it is widely accepted that the cremations began on the night of Friday, September 28, more than 24 hours after soldiers opened fire on unarmed Buddhist monks and civilians demonstrating on the streets of Rangoon.

They have continued at intervals right up to the end of last week, according to local people. Taxi drivers refused to take a foreigner to the area, saying they were too frightened and that the army moved bodies after the shoot-on-sight curfew.

The best estimate among foreign diplomats here is that between 100 and 200 people lost their lives in the Rangoon disturbances. The number of Buddhist monks arrested is put at about 1,000, while about 3,000 civilians have also been detained. The regime’s own statement is that 2,093 people are in custody.

The Chinese army carried out a similar practice of anonymous cremations in Beijing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when many unidentified bodies were disposed of at the city’s Babaoshan crematorium. The true number of dead has never been established.

A more disturbing aspect of the Burmese regime’s conduct is the apparently continuous stream of deaths days after the guns fell silent.

“We have first-hand evidence from respected Burmese doctors that hospitals and clinics were ordered not to give any treatment to the wounded,” said a foreign medical expert, “so it’s not possible to assess the victims by those treated in public hospitals.

“We do know that some injured people were treated in hiding in people’s homes. We assume that beaten, injured or wounded people taken into custody have got no treatment and may have died.”

This evidence has given rise to grave concern for the wellbeing of elderly monks and very young novices rounded up, by all accounts, with brutality.

There has been a drumbeat of allegations that soldiers and militiamen unleashed crazed violence against these holy men when they crashed into monasteries in the small hours of the night over the past week. Blood-stained robes, shattered statues and defaced holy pictures have been caught on digital images smuggled out of the country.

Some of the worst violence appears to have occurred at the Mwe Kya Jan monastery in northwest Rangoon. According to graphic testimony published in yesterday’s Thai newspapers, the soldiers lined the monks up against a wall and smashed each of their shaven heads against the wall in succession. The monks were roughed up and thrown into trucks, but the abbot was so severely beaten that he died on the spot, the reports claimed.

It was not possible to corroborate these reports yesterday owing to a heavy security presence at the monastery. But two boy monks asking for alms on a street in a nearby area appealed for help in their limited English.

“We are very frightened,” said the elder, who was about 14, while the younger, about 10, said: “I want to go home to see my mother and father again.”

Foreign observers experienced in monitoring human rights here say the stories of beatings, abuse and starvation in custody are likely to be accurate.

The regime has refused to grant access for the International Committee of the Red Cross to inspect the conditions of those in detention. Humanitarian workers said they hoped the British, French and American governments would take the lead in pressing the case for access at the UN security council and in private talks with the Burmese leaders and with China.

An attempt to observe an alleged detention centre at the Rangoon Institute of Technology was halted by soldiers who waved away a car at gunpoint. Through sheets of monsoon rain, trucks could be seen parked outside what appeared to be an administration block, but there was no sign of activity.

The United Nations special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, said on Friday in New York that he feared “mass relocations” of monks and protesters had taken place.

The systematic arrests have continued at night – a convoy of lorries and other vehicles rumbled past my hotel windows long after midnight – initially puzzling diplomats and activists, who wondered how military intelligence drew up its lists of those to be arrested.

The answer, it seems, was a grimly paradoxical use of the internet, whose liberating role in disseminating images and sound of the protests was prematurely celebrated by many as marking the world’s first globalised on-line revolt, instantly dubbed the Saffron revolution.

It is now clear that the regime was techno-savvy, patient and thorough. It kept the internet open long enough to allow its own cyber-operatives to down-load the images and recordings of street protests to identify the protesters. The internet is now shut down.

“Every Burmese street has a block registration with photographs of each resident on the wall of the local administration office,” said an international aid official, whose agency used the system to help track recipients of aid. Burmese have given accounts of soldiers and plain-clothes men arriving to make arrests with computer-generated photographs of their targets pulled off the internet.

On Friday government security agents raided the offices of Japan’s international aid agency, attempting to seize e-mail records and computers, several foreign sources said. After protests, the agents backed off. The news caused staff at other aid agencies to take steps to secure their own computer records.

The one ray of optimism in Rangoon this weekend has come on the political front. On Friday night a Burmese crowd in a teashop gasped to see the first pictures for many years of Aung San Suu Kyi on television.

The news programme showed the world’s most famous political prisoner meeting Gambari at her home at 54 University Avenue.

The junta’s leader, Than Shwe, told Gambari he would meet her under certain conditions, an offer that was reported to have been rejected but which, in local political terms, was remarkable.

But among the deeply superstitious Burmese there was a murmuring of hope after another piece of inauspicious news for the generals. There was delight in the teashops at the reported death from cancer of Soe Win, the junta’s “prime minister”.

Unlike his fellow countrymen, Soe Win had benefited from the best therapy that local doctors, aided by specialists in Singa-pore, could provide. The “tea-shop telegraph” also flashed the news that Soe Win’s brother had died in a failed attempt to donate marrow to fight the illness.

In a land where portents, stars and horoscopes are revered, it was a dreadful omen.

. . .


Calling Burma Myanmar is insulting to the Burmese

Supporters demand justice for slain Kremlin critic


A man holds a portrait of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya during a rally in central Moscow October 8, 2006. Politkovskaya, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, was shot dead on Saturday at her apartment block in central Moscow, police said. (Alexander Natruskin/Reuters)

Reuters | Oct 7, 2007

By Conor Sweeney

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Supporters demanded justice for murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya on Sunday while President Vladimir Putin celebrated his birthday with some of the security forces and spy chiefs criticized in her writing.

Up to 2,000 people, clutching carnations and pictures of the reporter, attended a somber rally in Moscow’s Pushkin Square under bleak skies to mark the first anniversary of her death.

Thousands more young people waved Russian flags and danced to pop music at a riverside party in Moscow organized by a pro-Kremlin youth movement in honor of Putin’s 55th birthday while in the Kremlin, military top brass, the FSB director and other intelligence agency figures mixed with the President.

“We should fight for freedom,” the editor of Politkovskaya’s newspaper, Dmitry Muratov, told those who gathered in her memory, including members of the “Other Russia” dissident group.

“We should keep Anna in our hearts and we should not follow the instructions of Putin.”

The crowd also endorsed a demand from the organizers that the authorities must bring her killers to justice.

Hundreds of police, some on horseback, patrolled nearby but no trouble was reported.

Colleagues gathered earlier for a graveside service in homage to Politkovskaya, a 48-year-old mother of two who wrote sharp criticism of Putin’s policies, particularly in Chechnya.

She was shot in the lift of her Moscow apartment block as she returned home from shopping. No one has been convicted for her murder.

A handful of others, including ex-world chess champion Garry Kasparov, now an opposition politician, laid flowers at the entrance to her apartment building.

Kasparov was frustrated at the poor turnout. “Today is the official celebration of Putin’s birthday, but in a few years people will remember this day more for the death of Anna,” he told Reuters.


Putin, who enjoys strong support among Russians, held a birthday reception for top military officials and friends in the Kremlin, his last as president before he steps down next March, possibly to become prime minister.

There was a strong military presence, including widows and family members of Russian soldiers killed in the Chechen wars, which Politkovskaya had written about repeatedly, to attack brutal tactics from the armed forces.

Nashi, the largest pro-Kremlin youth organization, drew at least 5,000 young people to its riverside outdoor party in honor of Putin.

“I was 12, a young girl when Putin became president, but now our country is once again strong,” said Daria Morina, 19, who described herself as a commissar with Nashi and wore an orange neck scarf, reminiscent of the Soviet-era Pioneer movement.

“I don’t know anything about Anna Politkovskaya. I’m not interested,” she said, when asked what she thought about the reporter’s murder.

She said the government had paid for the Nashi event.

Putin drew fire in the aftermath of Politkovskaya’s death for describing her influence as “minimal” but later praised her critical writing as an important contribution to public life.

Prosecutors announced the arrest of 11 suspects in August but some were later released for lack of evidence and the chief investigator on the case was sidelined amid accusations of political interference.

Prosecutors say the crime was masterminded by anti-Kremlin forces abroad to discredit Russia but have not produced any evidence of this.

34 bodies with bullet holes in skulls found buried near KGB Headquarters

A picture shows a courtyard with the entrance to a basement where construction workers have found the remains of 34 bodies in central Moscow October 4, 2007. Construction workers have found the remains of 34 bodies and a rusty pistol buried underneath a building on a street connecting the KGB headquarters to Red Square, authorities said on Thursday. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin (RUSSIA)

Scotsman | Oct 5, 2007


BUILDING workers in Moscow have found the remains of 34 bodies and a rusty pistol buried underneath a building on a street connecting the old KGB headquarters to Red Square.

The bodies are thought to date from the 1930s, when Josef Stalin’s NKVD secret police – the KGB’s predecessors – shot scores of people in the deep, thick-walled basements of buildings near their Lubyanka HQ. This period of political purges was known as the Great Terror; hundreds of thousands were murdered or simply disappeared.

Police who examined the bodies discovered bullet holes in the skulls. “The shots were fired at close range. The wounds and the posturing suggest that the workers discovered an execution room. The bodies had been in the basement for at least 60 years,” a police source said.

Sergei Baluchevsky, from the regional prosecutor’s office, had another theory. “Maybe they had been killed during tsarist times or maybe they died of a deadly disease,” he said.

The pistol found near the bodies dated from 1903, according to Baluchevsky, and the revolution that overthrew Tsar Nicholas II took place in 1917.

Arseny Roginsky, a Moscow historian, said in the early part of the 20th century the building next door had been home to a military conscription committee, while across the street was a military high court.

He said the military court “was perhaps one of the most important headquarters for judicial terror of the 1930s and 1940s, a most vivid time of murder when the court actively condemned people to execution on a daily basis”.

10,000 “Putin Youth” members gather to celebrate their leader’s birthday

Fanatical members of the “Putin Youth” group Nashi rally to mark the 55th birthday of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in downtown Moscow, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2007. Nashi is one of the Kremlin-backed youth movements that pays homage to Putin and seeks to promote Russia’s resurrection as a superpower. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

UPI | Oct 7, 2007

MOSCOW, Oct. 7 (UPI) — More than 10,000 members of Russia’s Nashi youth movement gathered in Moscow Sunday to wish President Vladimir Putin a happy birthday.

Itar-Tass reported the youths set up more than 1,000 Russian flags around the Taras Shevchenko embankment for the presidential birthday celebration, which carried the motto “Congratulate the President, Congratulate the Country.”

The signs on t-shirts with stylized Putin’s portrait read: ‘Our Choice!’

A representative for the movement, Kristina Potupchik, said the Nashi group was giving Putin a large “blanket of peace” adorned with symbols from many of Russia’s ethnic cultures.

“Nashi want this blanket to be a symbol of the multinational and grand Russia,” Potupchik said.

The youth movement also asked all major Russian churches to pray for the president’s health during his birthday and created a giant birthday card to present to Putin.

The Russian news agency said that card was available Sunday for anyone to send birthday greetings to Putin.

Kremlin’s KGB faithful prepare for second coming of Putin

“Former” KGB officers want Putin to serve as president for at least another eight years and possibly until 2023.

Fanatical members of the Putin Youth group Nashi wave national flags during a rally to mark the 55th birthday of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in downtown Moscow, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2007, with Putin’s portrait in the background. Nashi is one of the Kremlin-backed youth movements that pays homage to Putin and seeks to promote Russia’s resurrection as a superpower. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Sunday Times | Oct 7, 2007

by Mark Franchetti

A SHADOWY group of Kremlin insiders is urging President Vladimir Putin to return to his post just one year after he steps down in March, when his second and supposedly final term ends.

The siloviki, as the group of former KGB officers is known, want Putin to serve as president for at least another eight years and possibly until 2023. The constitution blocks anyone from serving more than two consecutive terms.

Last week Putin took some of his closest aides by surprise when he hinted that he might become prime minister. According to the siloviki plan, he would come back as president after a short stint as prime minister.

This would not require a change to the constitution because there would a brief interval between his second and third terms. Once back in the Kremlin, Putin would be legally entitled to serve two more four-year terms.

“For more than two years the assumption was that Putin would bow out of Russian politics for good when his tenure ends in the spring. Now there’s been a sea change,” said a source close to the president’s office.

“There’s no question now that Putin wants to stay on, either as prime minister or by coming back as president. It’s a move that the entire establishment and much of the Russian population supports.”

Putin has resisted pressure from the siloviki, which roughly translates as men of power, to stay on by amending the constitution. He has said he is in favour of extending the presidential term from four to five or even seven years, but that he does not want to alter the constitution while in office.

His comments have led to speculation that the constitution may be changed once he becomes prime minister. In theory he could then rule for up to 14 more years.

If so, Putin, who was plucked from obscurity by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, would then have ruled Russia for 22 years, four more than Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union’s longest serving leader after Joseph Stalin.

The siloviki are led by Igor Sechin, Putin’s secretive deputy chief of staff, and Viktor Ivanov, one of the president’s closest aides. Both men are said to fear that a strong successor to Putin would curb their power and push them out of the Kremlin.

Experts said that even as prime minister Putin would continue to rule Russia. A simple majority vote in parliament is all that is needed for the powers of the prime minister to be enhanced at the expense of the presidency.

Viktor Zubkov, Russia’s new prime minister, is being touted as a likely successor to the presidency. Close to Putin and lacking his own power base, Zubkov is viewed as a willing caretaker.

“This is only the beginning of the Putin era,” said Vyacheslav Nikonov, the head of a think tank connected to the Kremlin. Vladimir Pozner, one of Russia’s most respected political commentators, said: “Most Russians want Putin to stay on because they feel he is giving them back their pride.”

Yesterday Putin named former prime minister Mikhail Fradkov as head of his foreign intelligence service, further tightening his grip on power.

Putin, who is 55 today, has done little to discourage the growth of a Soviet-style personality cult. In the latest example of “Putin-mania” – which has seen pro-Kremlin youth groups march in T-shirts emblazoned with his portrait – a play is to open later this year in Vladivostok in which the president is portrayed as an all-action hero.

However, Putin’s few remaining critics at home warn that he will become more authoritarian if he stays. “With Putin’s announcement about possibly staying on as prime minister, the presidential elections have lost whatever meaning they could have had,” said Tanya Lokshina, a leading human rights campaigner.

CZAR VLADIMIR: Dictator for life?

Members of the fanatical “Putin Youth” Communist fertility cult wave flags on Putin’s birthday

NY Post | Oct 7, 2007

It’s been fully half a century since Russia was ruled by a dictator for life. But now Vladimir Putin, forced by law to give up the presidency later this year, has come up with an ingenious way to maintain absolute power for years and years to come.

Putin will head the parliamentary list of the United Russia Party in December’s elections; he says he’s “willing” to serve as prime minister.

Under Russia’s constitution, power is divided between the president, as head of state, and the prime minister, as head of government. But Putin has been no figurehead; he has exercised autocratic control.

That has given Russia much-needed internal stability – which is why Putin’s popularity now stands at 70-plus percent.

In other words, Putin’s power grab is likely to be endorsed by the voters – and in numbers that may give him a two-thirds majority in the Duma, allowing his supporters to easily amend the constitution to vest all power in the prime minister.

There are no limits on how long a prime minister may serve; in fact, Putin would be free, if he wanted, to again seek the presidency in 2012 – or even earlier.

But Russia’s domestic calm and growing economic vigor have come at a price.

In his quest to restore Russia’s lost Soviet-era glory (however dubious it was), Putin has harshly silenced dissent.

He has installed cronies from the FSB (successor to the dreaded KGB) at all levels of Russia’s government. Large businesses have been seized from their owners and placed under state control – even as Putin’s ex-KGB colleagues control lucrative utility and railroad monopolies.

And those who dare to speak out sometimes wind up dead – even outside Russia’s borders, like poisoned former spy Alexander Litvinenko.

For the record, Washington remains concerned about the “troubling” concentration of power in Putin’s hands – but is reluctant to take a more active approach.

This is not the way democracy was supposed to take root in Russia once the Evil Empire had collapsed.

Whether under czarism or communism, Russians have long suffered under despotic, one-man rule.

Is it to be more of the same?

Blackwater deliberately killed 17 civilians in Iraq according to investigators


Plainclothes contractors working for Blackwater USA take part in a firefight as Iraqi demonstrators loyal to Muqtada Al Sadr attempt to advance on a facility being defended by U.S. and Spanish soldiers, Sunday, April 4, 2004 in the Iraqi city of Najaf. (AP / Gervasio Sanchez)

CTV.ca | Oct 7, 2007

The Iraqi government accused Blackwater USA guards on Sunday of “deliberately killing” 17 Iraqi civilians who were gunned down in Baghdad’s main square last month.

Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters that an investigative committee set up by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki found “no evidence that the Blackwater convoy came under any direct or indirect fire, or that it was even hit by stones.”

Blackwater contends its employees came under fire from threatening targets while escorting a U.S. convoy through Baghdad, prompting guards to open fire in the capital on Sept. 16.

Dabbagh said Blackwater guards had “violated rules governing the use of force” and should be held legally responsible for the incident.

The Iraqi government put the official death toll at 17, up considerably from the 11 deaths previously attributed to the incident.

A joint U.S.-Iraqi commission reviewing the work of private security firms met for the first time on Sunday and expressed its commitment to, “work together to evaluate issues of safety and security related to personal security detail operations in Iraq,” an embassy statement read.

The two sides are charged with issuing a report to both governments that will make recommendations “ensuring that personal security detail operations do not endanger public safety.”

Iraq’s cabinet vowed on Sunday it would review the commission’s recommendations and “take the legal steps to hold the company to account”, Dabbagh said. No date is confirmed for the release of the report.

The commission is comprised of five embassy representatives and eight Iraqi officials. Sunday’s meeting was chaired by Iraq’s defence minister Abdel Qader Mohammed Jassim and the American embassy’s second in command Patricia Butenis.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is expected to take over the investigation from the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security later this week.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered a number of new guidelines designed to rein in members of the Blackwater security firm.

The recommendations include the installation of video cameras on armoured Blackwater vehicles and the use of federal agents to accompany Blackwater-escorted convoys. All radio transmissions between Blackwater and the embassy will also be recorded.

Last Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill making private security firms employed in global combat zones subject to prosecution in American courts.

Blackwater employs nearly 1,000 people in Iraq and is one of three private security firms employed in the volatile country by the State Department in Iraq. Since 2001, the firm has earned more than US$1 billion in federal contracts.

US Military Finds Blackwater at Fault in Baghdad Shooting

VOA News | Oct 5, 2007

A published report says the U.S. military has determined guards working for a private U.S. security firm in Iraq took excessive action in last month’s deadly shooting in Baghdad.

The Washington Post says military reports from the scene of the September 16 shooting show guards with Blackwater USA opened fire without provocation and used excessive force against Iraqi citizens. At least 11 Iraqi civilians were killed when the guards opened fire while protecting a U.S. diplomatic convoy in Baghdad.

A senior U.S. military official – speaking to the newspaper on the condition of anonymity – said Blackwater guards appeared to have fired grenade launchers, in addition to using machine guns.

Earlier this week, the head of Blackwater USA, Erik Prince, defended his employees’ actions, saying they were purely defensive.

An official Iraqi investigation into the shooting also found Blackwater guards fired without provocation.

The FBI has dispatched an investigative team to Baghdad to look into the incident at the capital’s Nisoor Square.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a measure that would hold Blackwater and other private security firms working for the U.S. government overseas accountable for any criminal actions. The measure would update a current law that subjects private contractors who support U.S. military operations to criminal prosecution in federal courts.

The Bush administration says the measure would place “unwarranted burdens” on the military because they would have to support criminal probes in war zones.