It’s was like a meaningless coda, as the war contractors at Blackwater USA changed its name again, two weeks after delivering Katy Helvenston-Wettengel with another insult.
For the last eight years, Helvenston-Wettengel has been fighting for justice and accountability for the preventable death of her son, a Blackwater employee named Scott Helvenston, in Iraq.
“Child prostitution, gun-running, rendition– Blackwater has this history, but to this day, there’s been zero accountability,” Helvenston-Wettengel said. “I feel like I not only lost my son, but I lost my country.”
She spoke directly to company President and Founder Erik Prince in 2004, having got his number from a reporter. She requested Prince send her son’s contract and an incident report, which documented the mission that sent her son to his death.
“He said he’d send it Fed-Ex in a few weeks,” she said. “Blackwater said I was going to have to sue them to get it.”
She still doesn’t know why her son was sent into a death trap on that awful day in Fallujah. Blackwater has never come clean about why her son was without the proper armaments, maps, protections and manpower or why he was reassigned to this particular mission, she said. They had dispatched four men who had never been to Fallujah before, and if they at least had a map, they wouldn’t have gotten trapped in the fatal ambush, Helvenston-Wettengel said.
Scott Helvenston joined Blackwater because its founder was, like Scott, a Navy SEAL, his mother said. Scott Helvenston believed he could use his years of SEAL experience and training to save American lives in Iraq. Above all, Blackwater offered rare two-month contracts that let him provide for his two children at home.
Helvenston-Wettengel’s 2004 call with Prince sparked a tumultuous journey to try and bring her family a modicum of accountability. Fighting for justice for her son’s brutal death required bringing Blackwater into a courtroom, but the corporation has managed, or arranged, to duck any responsibility.
Despite White House claims that the war in Iraq is ending, Blackwater’s latest namesake is in play to employ some of the 15,000 war contractors slated to stay behind. Taxpayer dollars would also flow into the company’s legal department, which is tailored to dodge responsibility for the deaths of its employees– just ask Helvenston-Wettengel.
“They want to force me into a gag order [and] take away my constitutional rights,” she said. “They just don’t care.”
Blackwater’s moral culpability in the death of Scott Helvenston is a story well documented. But the company, which changed its name from Xe Services to Academi, is attempting to punctuate its legal battle against Helvenston-Wettengel with a dictatorial whimper.
It was Nov. 28 and there was an email from her attorneys introducing a Blackwater proposal that left nothing for Scott’s grandchildren.
“It was an insult,” Helvenston-Wettengel said. “I wanted a closing statement. I want to know who’s getting what.”
It was neither justice nor accountability. It was cowardice and a departure from the America she grew up in, Helvenston-Wettengel said. She declined to say more, knowing that her words could spark another round of litigation. (She has been sued by Blackwater previously for her attempt to read her son’s employment contract and the incident report.)
She was a few pen strokes away from putting an end to a journey that led her to testify before Congress and take on the most secretive military-industrial complex: the cadre of war contracting companies that took root around the time the U.S. invaded Iraq.
“How dare they,” she said. “I can’t in my conscience sign it.”
Blackwater’s aggressiveness in and out of the courtroom has contributed to Helvenston-Wettengel’s exhaustion. The Florida realtor suffered a stroke last year and said she’s tired of taking on what journalist Jeremy Schaill said was the most powerful mercenary army ever.
“The government is protecting Blackwater” she said. “With all the lawsuits against them, how can that be possible?”