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Public Statements

Obama Demands Gates Address Contractor's Use of Riot Control Gas on U.S. Military Personnel in Iraq

Press Release

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today sent the following letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, calling on him to respond to reports that Blackwater Worldwide allegedly dispersed CS gas, a riot control substance, in an intersection populated by U.S. military personnel and Iraqi civilians in 2005. This gas temporarily blinded drivers, pedestrians, and at least 10 American soldiers operating the checkpoint. It is reported that U.S. military personnel saw no signs of gunfire or other forms of violence at the checkpoint at the time the riot control agent was dispersed.

In the letter, Obama calls on Gates to conduct an investigation into the incident; clarify the rules of engagement governing the use of riot control agents in Iraq by U.S. military personnel and contractors; and describe the harmful effects of the riot control agent on U.S. military personnel and Iraqi civilians who were exposed.

The text of the letter is below:

Dear Secretary Gates:

I am deeply troubled by news reports that Blackwater Worldwide dispersed CS gas, a riot control substance, in an intersection populated by U.S. military personnel and Iraqi civilians in 2005.

Press reports indicate the CS gas was dispersed by both a helicopter and an armored vehicle and that it temporarily blinded drivers, pedestrians, and at least 10 American soldiers operating the checkpoint. U.S. military personnel reportedly said that there were no signs of gunfire or other forms of violence at the checkpoint at the time the riot control agent was dispersed.

The seriousness of this incident, which appears to be part of a pattern of misconduct by Blackwater over the last several years, emphasizes yet again the need to address serious questions about the role and oversight of contractors operating in Iraq and the extent to which their conduct could be jeopardizing our military's efforts to bring this war to a responsible end. Accordingly, I ask that you respond to the following questions:

1. Did the Department of Defense conduct an investigation of this incident, and if so, what were the results? Was Blackwater authorized to carry and use CS gas or any other riot control agent?

2. What are the rules of engagement governing the use of riot control agents in Iraq by U.S. military personnel and contractors? Who in the U.S. government can authorize the use of riot control agents in Iraq? How many times have they been used in Iraq by U.S. military personnel or contractors, and what were the circumstances?

3. What were the effects of the riot control agent, which can cause a severe burning sensation in the eyes, difficulty breathing, and in some cases nausea and vomiting, on U.S. military personnel and Iraqi civilians who were exposed in this incident?

I look forward to your prompt responses to these questions. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama
United States Senator


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