(CNN) -- Erik Prince, the chairman and CEO of Blackwater USA, appeared Tuesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Erik Prince, CEO and chairman of Blackwater USA, is sworn in Tuesday at a congressional hearing.
The committee convened amid an FBI investigation into a September 16 shootout involving Blackwater personnel that resulted in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.
Following is a transcript of Prince's opening statement:
Chairman [Henry] Waxman, [D-California], Congressman [Thomas] Davis, [R-Virginia], members of the committee, my name is Eric Prince, and I am the chairman and CEO of the Prince Group and Blackwater USA.
Blackwater's a team of dedicated professionals who provide training to America's military and law enforcement communities and risk their lives to protect Americans in harm's way overseas.
Under the direction and oversight of the United States government, Blackwater provides an opportunity for military and law enforcement veterans with a record of honorable service to continue their support to the United States.
Words alone cannot express the respect I have for these brave men and women who defend -- who volunteer to defend U.S. personnel facilities and diplomatic missions. I am proud to be there to represent them today.
After almost five years in active service as a U.S. Navy SEAL, I founded Blackwater in 1997. I wanted to offer the military and law enforcement communities assistance by providing expert instruction and world-class training venues. Ten years later, Blackwater trains approximately 500 members of the United States military and law enforcement agencies every day.
After 9/11, when the U.S. began its stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and then Iraq, the United States government called upon Blackwater to fill a need for protective services in hostile areas. Blackwater responded immediately. We are extremely proud of answering that call in supporting our country.
Blackwater personnel supporting our overseas missions are all military and law enforcement veterans, many of whom have recent military deployments. No individual ever protected by Blackwater has ever been killed or seriously injured. There is no better evidence of the skill and dedication of these men.
At the same time, 30 brave men have made the ultimate sacrifice while working for Blackwater and its affiliates. Numerous others have been wounded and permanently maimed. The entire Blackwater family mourns the loss of these brave lives. Our thoughts and our prayers are with their families.
The areas of Iraq in which we operate are particularly dangerous and challenging. Blackwater personnel are subject to regular attacks by terrorists and other nefarious forces within Iraq. We're the targets of the same ruthless enemies that have killed more than 3,800 American military personnel and thousands of innocent Iraqis.
Any incident where Americans are attacked serves as a reminder of the hostile environment in which our professionals work to keep American officials and dignitaries safe, including visiting members of Congress.
In doing so, more American service members are available to fight the enemy.
Blackwater shares the committee's interest in ensuring the accountability and oversight of contract personnel supporting U.S. operations.
The company's personnel are already accountable under and subject to numerous statutes, treaties and regulations of the United States. Blackwater looks forward to working with Congress and the executive branch to ensure that any necessary improvements to these laws and policies are implemented.
The worldwide personnel protection services contract, which has been provided to this committee, was competitively awarded and details almost every aspect of operation and contract performance, including the hiring, vetting guidelines, background checks, screening, training standards, rules of force and conduct standards.
In Iraq, Blackwater reports to the embassy's regional security officer, or RSO. All Blackwater movements and operations are directed by the RSO. In conjunction with internal company procedures and controls, the RSO ensures that Blackwater complies with all relevant contractual terms and conditions, as well as any applicable laws and regulations.
We have approximately 1,000 professionals serving today in Iraq as part of our nation's total force. Blackwater does not engage in offensive or military missions but performs only defensive security functions.
My understanding of the September 16 incident is that the Department of State and the FBI are conducting a full investigation, but those results are not yet available. We at Blackwater welcome the FBI review announced yesterday, and we will cooperate fully and look forward to receiving their conclusions.
I just want to put some other things in perspective.
A recent report from the Department of State stated that in 2007 Blackwater conducted 1,873 security details for diplomatic visits to the red zone, areas outside the Green Zone in Iraq, and there have been only 56 incidences in which weapons were discharged, or less than 3 percent of all movements.
In 2006, Blackwater conducted over 6,500 diplomatic movements in the Red Zone. Weapons were discharged in less than 1 percent of those missions.
To the extent there is any loss of innocent life, ever, let me be clear that I consider that tragic. Every life, whether American or Iraqi, is precious. I stress to the committee and to the American public, however, that I believe we acted appropriately at all times.
I am prepared to answer your questions. E-mail to a friend