Exclusive: Blackwater Turret Gunner 'Paul': Why I Opened Fire in Baghdad
ABCNews (2007-11-14) Brian Ross
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More Info: Blackwater
The Turret Gunner Says He Feared For His Life As He Opened Fire
By BRIAN ROSS
Nov. 14, 2007
A 29-year-old U.S. Army veteran hired by Blackwater last year is at the center of the investigation into the Sept. 16 shooting incident that killed at least 17 civilians, U.S. officials say.
Identified in government documents with a first name of "Paul," he was the turret gunner on a Blackwater security detail that day and repeatedly fired at perceived enemy targets, including a bus, according to a sworn statement he gave to State Department investigators three days after the incident.
In the statement, obtained by the Blotter on ABCNews.com, "Paul" says he feared for his life when, as a turret gunner, he opened fire on multiple vehicles and individuals.
The FBI has concluded at least 14 of the deaths were unjustified, according to The New York Times, and the case is reportedly focusing on "turret gunner 3."
In his statement, "Paul," a veteran of U.S. Army deployments in Bosnia and Iraq, describes a scene sharply at odds with the reported initial findings of the FBI investigation.
The turret gunner told investigators that a white car was driving "directly at our motorcade" and that the driver "looked directly at me and kept moving toward our motorcade," ignoring what he said were "hand signals and yelling" for the driver to stop.
"Fearing for my life and the lives of my teammates, I engaged the driver and stopped the threat," the Blackwater guard said in his statement.
It was just the beginning.
He went on to describe why he opened fire on what witnesses have said were bystanders running from the scene.
"I started receiving small arms fire from the shack approximately fifty meters behind the car. I then engaged the individuals where the muzzle flashes came from," he said.
Iraqi officials say there was no such small-arms fire aimed at the motorcade of State Department officials.
The Blackwater guard's account describes why he continued to fire.
"I was told on our radio that the command vehicle was down and that we were still taking fire," he said.
In his statement, he said he then fired on a man armed with an AK-47, later described as an Iraqi.
"As I turned my turret to the six, there was a man in a blue button down shirt with black pants that had his AK oriented to the rear gunner in the follow vehicle. Fearing for the gunner's life, I engaged the individual and stopped the threat," he said.
"Paul" claimed that the motorcade continued to be attacked, even as it was being towed out of the intersection.
"I again was engaged by small arms fire from the red bus that was stopped at the intersection. I engaged the individuals and stopped the threat," he said in the statement.
There was still one more target that the Blackwater turret gunner claimed to be an enemy threat in his statement, a passenger car he said he thought might be rigged as a bomb.
"There was a red vehicle backing toward the command vehicle. Fearing that it was a VBIED [vehicle-borne improvised explosive device], I engaged in order to stop the threat," his account reads.
In his statement, the Blackwater guard said while in Iraq he had made "numerous split second shoot don't shoot decisions." He said he had successfully completed weapons qualification courses required by the State Department to carry automatic weapons.
Blackwater has maintained its guards acted appropriately in protecting U.S. diplomats from attack.
As to the New York Times account of the FBI's preliminary findings, the spokesperson said, "Blackwater supports stringent accountability for our industry. If official findings conclude that someone was complicit in wrongdoing, we will support holding that person accountable. However, the investigation remains underway and to the best of our understanding, the key people involved in the incident have yet to even speak with authorities."
Read the Full Statement. (The date on the original document is incorrect; the incident took place on Sept. 16.)