Report Depicts Recklessness at Blackwater
New York Times (2007-10-01) David Stout, John M Broder
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By DAVID STOUT and JOHN M. BRODER
Published: October 1, 2007
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 — Guards working in Iraq for Blackwater USA have shot innocent Iraqi civilians and have sought to cover up the incidents, sometimes with the help of the State Department, a report to a Congressional committee said today.
The report, based largely on internal Blackwater e-mail messages and State Department documents, depicts the security contractor as being staffed with reckless, shoot-first guards who were not always sober and did not always stop to see who or what was hit by their bullets.
In one incident, the State Department and Blackwater agreed to pay $15,000 to the family of a man killed by “a drunken Blackwater contractor,” the report said. As a State Department official wrote, “We would like to help them resolve this so we can continue with our protective mission.”
The report was compiled by the Democratic majority staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is scheduled to hold a hearing on Blackwater activities on Tuesday. That hearing is sure to be contentious now that the chairman, Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, and other members have the staff’s findings to study.
A Blackwater spokeswoman, Anne Tyrrell, had no immediate comment. “We look forward to setting the record straight,” she told The Associated Press. Erik Prince, Blackwater’s founder and chairman, is to testify before Mr. Waxman’s panel. The State Department said several of its senior officials would address the issues in the report at the hearing on Tuesday.
The report is likely to raise questions not only about the wisdom of employing private security forces in Iraq, but also about the basic American mission in the country.
Blackwater guards have engaged in nearly 200 incidents of gunfire in Iraq since 2005, and in the vast majority of cases Blackwater people fired their weapons from moving vehicles without stopping to count the dead or assist the injured, the report found.
The shootings logged by Blackwater were more than those by the other two private military contractors combined, the committee found. Blackwater has more than twice the number of contractors than the other two combined. The other contractors are Dyn Corp
International and Triple Canopy.
“Blackwater also has the highest incidence of shooting first, although all three companies shoot first in more than half of all escalation-of-forces incidents,” the staff report said.
And the State Department’s own documents “raise serious questions” about how department officials responded to reports of Blackwater killings of Iraqis, the report said.
“There is no evidence in the documents that the committee has reviewed that the State Department sought to restrain Blackwater’s actions, raised concerns about the number of shooting incidents involving Blackwater or the company’s high rate of shooting first, or detained Blackwater contractors for investigation,” the committee staff wrote.
Moreover, contrary to the terms of its contract, Blackwater sometimes engaged in offensive operations with the American military, instead of confining itself to its protective mission, the staff found.
The report also raised questions about the cost-effectiveness of using Blackwater forces instead of United States troops. Blackwater charges the government $1,222 per day per guard, “equivalent to $445,000 per year, or six times more than the cost of an equivalent U.S. soldier,” the report said.
The incident involving “a drunken Blackwater contractor” arose when the employee killed a bodyguard for the Iraqi vice president, Adil Abd-al-Mahdi, in December 2006. State Department officials allowed Blackwater to take the shooter out of Iraq less than 36 hours later.
Then the State Department charge d’affaires recommended that Blackwater make “a sizable payment” and an “apology” in an effort to “avoid this whole thing becoming even worse,” the report went on. The State Department official suggested a $250,000 payment to the guard’s family, but the department’s Diplomatic Security Service said that was too much and could cause Iraqis to “try to get killed.” In the end, $15,000 was agreed upon. The report adds credence to complaints from Iraqi officials, American military officers and Blackwater’s competitors that company guards have adopted an aggressive, trigger-happy approach and displayed disregard for Iraqi life.
In late March 2004, four Americans working for Blackwater were ambushed and killed, and an enraged mob then jubilantly dragged the burned bodies through the streets of downtown Falluja, hanging at least two corpses from a bridge over the Euphrates River.
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Text of the Report (pdf)
The Lede: More From the Blackwater Report
Reach of War
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The Congressional report, based on 437 internal Blackwater incident reports as well as internal State Department correspondence, says that that Blackwater’s use of force “is frequent and extensive, resulting in significant casualties and property damage.” It notes that Blackwater’s contract authorizes it to use lethal force only to prevent “imminent and grave danger” to themselves or the people they are paid to protect.
“In practice, however,” the report says, “the vast majority of Blackwater weapons discharges are pre-emptive, with Blackwater forces firing first at a vehicle or suspicious individual prior to receiving any fire.” Among the incidents cited in the report:
On Oct. 24, 2005, Blackwater guards fired on a car that failed to heed a warning to stop. In the gunfire, a civilian bystander was hit in the head with a bullet, but Blackwater personnel did not stop. Blackwater officials reported the incident as a “probable killing” but there is no evidence the company offered compensation to the victim’s family.
On June 25, 2005, a Blackwater team in Hillah fatally shot an Iraqi man, a father of six, in the chest. The victim’s family complained to the State Department, which said in an internal report that the Blackwater gunmen initially failed to report the killing and tried to cover it up.
On Sept. 24, 2006, a Blackwater convoy with four vehicles was driving the wrong way on a road in Hillah when a red Opel failed to get out of the way. The Opel skidded into one of the Blackwater vehicles, disabling it. The Opel then hit a telephone pole and burst into flames. The Blackwater team scooped up its people and equipment from the disabled vehicle and fled the scene without attempting to help the occupants of the burning car.
On Nov. 28, 2005, a Blackwater motorcade traveling to and from the Iraqi oil ministry collided with 18 different vehicles. According to an internal Blackwater report of the incident, the statements from employees were “invalid, inaccurate, and at best, dishonest.” Two Blackwater employees were dismissed, but there was no other apparent action taken as a result.
The report is available (as a PDF file) on the committee’s web site:<http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20071001121609.pdf> http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20071001121609.pdf