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Blackwater Security Firm Allegedly Hatched A Plan To Bribe Iraqis After The 2007 Shooting Incident Which Left 17 Iraqis Dead

Aired November 11, 2009 - 12:00:00   ET


STAN GRANT, CNN INT'L. ANCHOR, PRISM: U.S. President Obama leads his nation in honoring it's veterans as he weighs the options for sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Convicted of murder and now sentenced to life for the fatal stabbing of an Egyptian woman. The case in Germany that has outraged the Arab world.

And in today's "PRISM Segment" the occult in Africa. Can one practice witchcraft and be a Christian, too?

At CNN Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, this is PRISM, where we take the story, put it under the prism and look at it from multiple perspectives. I'm Stan Grant.

First, today is Armistice, or Remembrance Day, marked in the U.S. as Veteran's Day. And much of the world stopped, briefly, on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, when the Armistice to end World War I went into effect, as the world pauses to remember the contributions of those who fought and died in wars past and present.

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses in his reflection on the future of the war in Afghanistan to take part in Veteran's Days services in the U.S. Moments ago he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, at Arlington Cemetery.




GRANT: Mr. Obama meets with his national security team later today to consider future strategy for the war in Afghanistan.

It is particularly poignant, Armistice Day, for Great Britain, as the nation marks the deadliest year for British troops since the Falklands War. Almost 100 British service members have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year; 232 have lost their lives since the 2001 invasion.

It is also bittersweet as time takes its toll on the last of the World War I veterans who were so much a part of previous Armistice Day events.

And in Paris, the leaders of France and Germany appeared together in an Armistice Day ceremony for the first time since World War I. French President Nicholas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel took part in a memorial service at the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Arch de' Triumph. Mr. Sarkozy said French/German friendship is sealed with blood. Mrs. Merkel agreed.


ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR, GERMANY (through translator): It is by the grace of history that we are standing here today, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and that we can say that the friendship between Germany and France is a gift. The freedom of our European Continent is a miracle. We are committed to keep and protect both. Long live France. Long live Germany. Long live the Franco-German friendship.


GRANT: Let's look now at the human toll from World War I, in the four years of fighting. The total number of military deaths on all sides was more than 8.5 million people. This total number includes more than 5 million Allies and more than 3 million Central Powers troops. And estimated 7 million civilians were killed in the war.

Blackwater Worldwide reportedly had plans to pay off Iraqi officials, at one point. According to "The New York Times" the U.S. security contractor considered bribery after a 2007 shooting incident its guards were involved in that left 17 Iraqis dead. "The Times" says the firm sent about $1 million to its Iraq office for that purpose. CNN has contacted the former Blackwater Worldwide, known today as XE Company. And we have received the following statement. "Regarding the story `The New York Times' is running, we dispute the allegations as they are baseless and refuse to comment on former employees."

Well the report, once again, raises questions about the role of private contractors operating in war zones. Mohammed Jamjoom is monitoring this story in Baghdad. And he joins us now.

Mohammed, there are claims, there are counter-claims, denials, how is this being viewed in Iraq?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT: Stan, in an exclusive interview today with CNN Iraq's Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, told us that an investigation has been opened into these allegations of bribery that were reported in today's "New York Times". Now he said it is still early to tell if this is true or not, but he said that if any Iraqi official is proven to be guilty of these allegations that the most severe measures will be taken against them by the judiciary here.

When we asked him if Blackwater, or XE Company, is still operating in Iraq this is what he had to say.


JAWAD AL-BOLANI, IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): Blackwater has no new permissions to operate in Iraq. Blackwater has a problem and a lawsuit. Some of its employees committed a crime against innocent Iraqi civilians in New Source (ph) Square, and this case is an ongoing trial in American courts.


JAMJOOM: Despite those assurances, and assurances of others in Iraq, Blackwater, or XE Company, is still somewhat operational here. Blackwater, XE Company, actually has the aviation support contracts. That means they provide aerial support to embassy personnel that are driving through the streets of Iraq. So there is still some confusion as to how much of a presence Blackwater, or XE Company, has. Although it is known for sure that most Iraqis do want them out of this country and they have ever since that incident in New Source Square, in 2007, Stan.

GRANT: Mohammed, this is curious, because we have just heard, there, that they do not have a license to operate in Iraq. You are telling us they are continuing to operate in some fashion. What is the future of the company in Iraq? Any indication on that front?

JAMJOOM: Well, the interior minister told us he expects the last vestiges of any contract that XE Company has with the American here, or the State Department, to run out probably in the new year. He's still looking into that. But this does raise a question as to, you know, after this incident happened, you know, the Iraqi government was up in arms about getting Blackwater out of here, revoking their contract, their operational license, they wanted them to leave.

You know, the American government didn't want them to leave right away. Last May, in 2008, they took away their contract and they gave that to Triple Canopy. Triple Canopy is now handling the defense of the American embassy and their diplomats here. But what a lot of people don't know is - and we have reported on before - is that a lot of people that worked for XE, or Blackwater, a lot of the contractors, once Blackwater left, or most of them left, these contractors just simply went over and started working with Triple Canopy.

So we asked the interior ministry about that. We said, you know, if that's the case, how does that make you feel as an Iraqi? How does that make most Iraqis feel, that despite your protestations, despite the fact that you want them out of here, they are still here, to some extent?

He said, you know, we do want them out of here. And they are going to do their best to make sure that none of these bribery allegations prove to be true. If they are true, they are going to go after the people that may have taken bribes. And they want to make sure the last vestiges of XE are out of Iraq, hopefully this new year -Stan.

GRANT: Mohammed, thank you. Mohammed Jamjoom, live, joining us live there from Baghdad.

A tragic case is now over; one that was closely watched in Germany and across the Muslim world. A Dresden court has sentenced a Russian-born German to life in prison for stabbing a pregnant Egyptian woman to death in front of her husband and young child.

Now Frederik Pleitgen joins us from CNN Berlin.

This was a highly contentious, highly charged case, wasn't it, Fred?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN BERLIN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly was, Stan. You could see, as that case resumed today, on that final day before the sentencing and the verdict there were protests outside the courtroom. A lot of Muslim groups were protesting there, saying that this crime was a show of anti-Islam feelings here in this country. So, certainly it was highly charged here in Germany, and really, around the world especially in Egypt, where of course, Marwa al-Sherbini, the victim in all of this, comes from.

Today, Marwa al-Sherbini murder, Alexander Wiens was sentenced to life in prison. He is also not going to be eligible for parole. And this was something very important, because normally, Stan, under German law, even if you are sentenced to life in prison, after 15 years you are automatically put up, at least, for a parole hearing. In this case, that is not going to be the case. They say the earliest that he can try and sign up for that would be after about 18 years.

Now, they said the reason they had this severe sentence, Stan, is because of the brutality of this crime. You might want to recall that just a little bit. It was in the same courthouse that the verdict was handed down today in. That earlier this year Alexander Wiens went over and stabbed Marwa al-Sherbini some 18 times, killing her inside the courtroom. And certainly, today, the court ruled that Alexander Wiens was handling -or was doing this out of hatred for foreigners, Stan.

GRANT: Yes, and Fred, you touched on this just at the start, that this trial was also about Germany and Germany's attitudes towards Muslims. And if I'm correct, a lot of this criticism came because of what they saw as the media not taking it seriously enough, and also a slow response from the government, is that right?

PLEITGEN: Yes, absolutely. I mean, the media, German society, and the government as well, I mean, I think all across the Islamic world and also among Muslim groups here in Germany, there was a big feeling that there was somewhat of a muted response after all of this happened. I mean, it took a while for it to really sink in what happened. Not only with media outlets here in Germany but also with German society as well. I mean, we were talking to Egyptians who live there in Dresden. They said they would have expected some more, sort of public show, of outcry. And that really took a couple of days for that really to happen.

Also the reaction of the German government was something that disappointed a lot of people. It took several days for the German government to issue a statement. For several days the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quiet on the issue. And really, this is something that, now, if you see the end of this trial - even the beginning of the trial - the German government was very much aware of. They invited a lot of journalists from Egypt to come over here and witness the trial. The put out a special brochure explaining the German legal system, explaining also by the way, and this is interesting, why there is no such thing as the death penalty here in Germany.

So, certainly, the German government, I think, has learned that it was a major blunder in communication right after this happened. And it was something that they were very, very much aware of. And, you know, talking to Muslims here in Germany, I heard it again and again, and they said that Germans should be very, very well aware of the fact that it is also their judicial system that is very much on trial, at least, sort of in the court of public opinion, in the Muslim world, Stan.

GRANT: Fred, thank you for that. Fred Pleitgen joining us there from Berlin.

In tonight's PRISM "Segment" in parts of Africa competing beliefs overlap. We'll go live to Kenya where CNN's David McKenzie looks at the coexistence between Christianity and witchcraft.

And a powerful cyclone comes ashore near Mumbai. We'll have the latest on the situation. Plus, a look at your global weather picture.


GRANT: Welcome back.

Forecasters are warning India about high rains after a weekend cyclone came ashore near Mumbai. The city's chief disaster management officer said rescuers had been on standby all day, but no evacuations had been ordered. And there were no reports of damage. Federal officials say the air force was also put on alert.

Let's take a look now at the global weather picture. Mari Ramos is at the CNN World Weather Center.

Hi, Mari.

MARI RAMOS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, you know that cyclone could still bring some problems into interior parts of India now. Even though we'll still get some scattered rain showers along the coast, including for Mumbai, you know you had about 60 millimeters of rain already. That's quite a bit.

But most of the moisture now continuing to trail inland; like I said, the storm is weakening, Stan, as it moves on shore and it loses that contact with the water. But it is still packing quite a punch and you could get winds as high as 70 kilometers per hour with this. So, be very careful. We are going to see that moisture continuing to trail northward, and in some cases we could get an additional, well, the purple right there, is 15 centimeters of rain. And as we head into the higher elevations, the hillier terrain, maybe that could be exaggerated a little, up to about 25 in isolated spots, which is quite a bit. So the risk for flooding an mudslides remains in that region.

I want to take you -talk about a different tropical cyclone. Remember Ida? Well, that storm came ashore, brought significant rainfall here across parts of the Southeastern U.S. And now, most of that moisture continues to trail here, inland, along the Carolinas. And we're expecting that area of low pressure to move out to see and still cause some problems even as we head through the next few days. And look at these estimated rainfall totals that we are seeing into some of these areas. About 25 centimeters, including into areas like Washington, D.C.

I want to take you here into Tennessee, though. They didn't get a lot of rain, but they have been having these problems.



Isn't that amazing? A news crew caught this on camera. This is on Highway 64, right outside the Chattahoochee National Forest. Elevation is a big concern here. The recent rainfall, another one. A rock slide caught on camera. You know, Stan, we have been talking quite a bit about landslides recently, because of what happened in El Salvador, and the landslides in Indonesia. Well, there you go. There is one on tape. And when you see this kind of violent, display of mother nature's fury, really, it is amazing that they were able to capture it on tape, first of all. We can see why the aftermath of such things is so, so disastrous. Anyway, let's go ahead and head back to you.

GRANT: Yes, extraordinary pictures, Mari. The noise as well, you could just really feel the power of that, couldn't you?


GRANT: Thank you for that, Mari.

RAMOS: Sure.

GRANT: Up next, in our PRISM "Segment" CNN's David McKenzie, in Kenya, visits a church were Christianity and the occult live side by side.


GRANT: For hundreds of years missionaries worked to spread Christianity across Africa. But according to the United Nations a belief in witchcraft is also widely held throughout the continent. In tonight's PRISM "Segment" we look at whether the two can co-exist. The Bible itself is very clear about the occult. The book of Deuteronomy specifically singles out witches as an "abomination". But for one congregation in Kenya, where the Bible ends and the occult begins, is not that clear. CNN's David McKenzie reports.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Dawn brings relief to western Kenya. Here, they say, witches, night runners, and evil spirits roam through the night.

So by morning the Christian faithful head to worship. At the Community of Christ Church in Kissee (ph), they sing songs of fervent praise.


MCKENZIE: Pastor Lawrence of Mumbai preaches fiery sermons. In Africa the line between Christianity and the occult is often blurred. And this pastor's specialty -

OMAMBIA: (Shouting in foreign language).

MCKENZIE: - is casting out demons. The pastor says that with his gift from God he can heal cancer or epilepsy and remove curses from his flock. Even laying hands on the youngest worshipers. He describes healing like electric currents flowing from Jesus.

OMAMBIA: I believe miracles to happen, because I have seen people who have been possessed, they are delivered. I see people who had diseases, now they are free from diseases.

(Speaking a foreign language)

MCKENZIE: Pastor Lawrence is a former Catholic priest. He says he was excommunicated more than a decade ago for emphasizing the occult and using healing hands. He built his own church and word of his power has spread.

OMAMBIA: This is a good man .

MCKENZIE: Catholic, Seventh Day Adventists, and even Muslims send photographs to him in the mail, scrawling on the back their ailments. Asthma, possession, and marital troubles. He says that a photo of a person is as good as the real thing.

OMAMBIA: And I command evil spirits to come out in the name of Jesus, come out now, come out the devil, now, in the name of Jesus. Receive now healing in the name of Jesus Christ, that is the way I do.

MCKENZIE: But some Kenyans cure witchcraft not with prayer, but with violence.

(On camera): Witchcraft is part of the fabric of this community and it has deadly consequences. The 66-year-old woman who used to live in this house, now she is buried in her garden, a mob attacked and killed her because they accused her of being a witch.

(Voice over): To ward off witches people also practice superstitions like wearing red clothing, or shield themselves with Christian beliefs.

Anna Mumai says her brother-in-law bewitched her over a land dispute. She believes the curse nearly crippled her. She says doctors and traditional healers can't cure her. Only the pastor can.

ANNA MUMAI, "BEWITCHED" KENYAN (through translator): I just hope that one day, because Pastor heals a lot of people through prayers, by laying hands on them, then I believe that one day, I will get healed.

OMAMBIA: (Speaking a foreign language).

MCKENZIE: And so, Anna, comes to Pastor Lawrence's church every Sunday in pain, and in hope, that through the hands of a young pastor, a Christian God can exercise her pagan demons.


GRANT: We're going to talk a little bit more about this now, with David McKenzie. He is in Kenya and he joins us on the phone from CNN Nairobi.

A fascinating story, David. I'm just wondering, looking at that, how widespread this is? How many people actually believe in this, follow this type of witchcraft?

MCKENZIE: You know, Stan, that is a good question. It is hard to quantify, but certainly in that part of Kenya, in the western part of Kenya, around Kissee (ph) towards Great Lake, Lake Victoria and into Tanzania, there are strongly held beliefs about witches, witchcraft, about the occult.

And one might still remember, this isn't your typical, what you would consider at least in the West, at least, as witchcraft. This isn't some sort of hocus pocus, Halloween movie-style of witchcraft. This is the more deep-seated belief in the power of evil spirits and the power the occult. And many people who believe in the Christian God, also believe in witchcraft, Stan.

GRANT: Yes, that is a very interesting point, David, because as you say, it is associated in the West, I suppose, with Satanic ritual and so on. But this, listening to the pastor, that you spoke to in the story, he sees this very much as a gift he has received from God. This is part of his Christian practice.

MCKENZIE: Well, that's right. I mean, one must make a distinction on the one thing, Stan. The pastor is a Christian pastor, he believes in things that quite a lot of Pentecostal pastors would believe in. He believes that, in his case, he feels he has a gift from God, from a Christian God, and that he can use that gift in healing people. He says he can heal people of all sorts of physical ailments, spiritual ailments, even cancer. But he does say that one of his gifts is -that people are demonized, if they have demons or are possessed, he can deliver them from that, using his Christian faith.

So, I guess, the debate here is whether if you are a Christian, can you, at the same time believe in the occult? There are traditional practices in this area, very much along the line of traditional belief. But this is more in terms of, you know, your neighbor can come up to you, if you have some kind of argument with them. And they can say I curse you, because of this, that, and the other thing. And so people use this pastor, that you can get those demons, or get that curse out of him. But at the same time, someone who goes to church on a Sunday, might then, on the same day or the next day, go to a traditional healer and converse with their ancestors. So, as you say, it is a melting pot of religion in this part of Africa.

GRANT: Let's also talk, David, about something else that you touched on, and that is the dark side of this. That people are accused of witchcraft, they are killed. People are also exploited. Where does the law stand in this? And what can be done to protect people?

MCKENZIE: Well, that is exactly right. I mean people use the issue of witchcraft or they accuse people of witchcraft. And often they target them. And in this part Kenya, particularly in the town Of Kissee, where went for the story, there had been a number of cases of, particularly, older women, who are accused by people, younger people, often, of being witches, of placing curses on people. They have been a sort of mob justice and often these people have been killed, should they be accused.

As you saw in the piece, we visited a woman's home. A young boy said that she was a witch and a mob then killed her right near her home. So there is an aspect of vigilante justice that ties into this; and then just the aspect of law and order, in Kenya. There have been people arrested by the everyday police in Kenya for being witches. But there is nothing really on the statutes books that say, if you are a witch you should go to jail.

But there are a lot of beliefs in this area that they are what is called night runners, people who will run around at night with flaming torches and go to people's houses, there are demons and it is very much part of the fabric of life. Whether there are actually people who practice this or whether it is just hearsay, that people use for their own advantage. Say, if you have a dispute with your neighbor, again, or whether you have a dispute with a family member, you call someone a witch and it is a convenient way to get them out of the picture.

So, it is all mixed in there and it is a very sort of complex sort of combination of Christian beliefs, traditional beliefs and modern stresses, Stan.

GRANT: David, thank you for that. David McKenzie, our correspondent in Nairobi. It is a fascinating subject and David really brings us a slice of life there, and how witchcraft very much blends in with Christianity in that part of the world.

Now, woman and children are being targeted in a number of countries over witchcraft. Here are a few examples. According to the U.N., most of the 25,000 to 50,000 homeless children in Kinshasa are there because they have been accused of witchcraft and rejected by their families. In Ghana, some 2,000 women accused of witchcraft have been confined to a handful of camps, most of them are poor, elderly and have lived there for decades. In Nepal, elderly woman and widows are singled out and abused in witch hunts and exorcism ceremonies. And in Papua New Guinea, there were more than 50 sorcery related killings last year. But some believe the number of deaths is much higher.

So, we want to know what you think. Can Christianity and witchcraft coexist? Send your thoughts to may Twitter account. That is StanGrantCNN.

And that brings us to the end of this edition of PRISM. That is it for me and the team, here in Abu Dhabi. "Business Traveller" coming up next, after we update the headlines.