Blackwater Iraq Incident, Details Begin to Emerge

October 01, 2007 10:48 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
As lawmakers prepare for the Oct. 2 hearing into the Blackwater shooting incident, a preliminary State Dept. report adds complexity to an episode clouded by contradictions.

30-Second Summary

Sept. 28—A preliminary report by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security offers a glimpse into the chaotic events of Sept. 16 that led to the deaths of 11 Iraqi civilians. The Washington Post obtained the document, the findings of which contradict the accounts of at least five Iraqi eyewitnesses.

According to the report, there were three Blackwater units involved, one of which was ambushed near the traffic circle where the shooting took place.

Thus far, the State Department findings substantiate Blackwater’s claim that their personnel came under attack. However, a separate statement from an unnamed official close to the investigation said that guards involved in the shooting reported that at least one employee drew down on one or more of his colleagues and called for a cease fire.

A day after this information was revealed, The Washington Post reported that five Iraqi witnesses maintain that the Blackwater guards were not attacked before they opened fire. The eyewitnesses—three traffic policemen and two maintenance workers—insist that the guards’ actions were unprovoked and directly led to the civilian deaths.

In Washington, reactions to the shooting have grown more urgent as both the House and the Senate consider bills that would expand the legal regulations governing private military contractors.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is heading an official investigation. Blackwater founder Erik Prince will testify at an Oct. 2 hearing. Waxman’s committee is also investigating charges of widespread contractor corruption in Iraq.

In addition, the U.S. District Attorney’s office in North Carolina is investigating allegations that former Blackwater employees illegally smuggled weapons into Iraq.

Headline Links: Iraqi accounts vs. the State Dept.’s early findings

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported on the State Department’s preliminary findings, yet the papers’ sources differ on a few important details. The Post reported that the car bomb that went off before the shooting incident was 25 yards away from the compound where diplomats were meeting, whereas the Times writes that the bomb went off “a few hundred yards away.” Additionally, the Post reports that one of the Blackwater units was ambushed, while the Times reports that the guards “believed that they were being fired on.”

Background: A timeline of key events and coverage since the Sept. 16 shooting

Sept. 26—Waxman accused the State Department of impeding his investigation by ordering Blackwater to seek authorization before providing his committee with information. According to a letter sent by the State Department’s Security Contracting Officer Kizian Moneypenny, Blackwater’s contractual obligations compel the company to make “no disclosure of documents or information generated under [the contract] unless such disclosure has been authorized in writing by the Contract Officer." Waxman responded with his own letter telling Condoleezza Rice that her department “was wrong to interfere with the committee’s inquiry.” After that, the State Department appeared to soften its stance by allowing Blackwater to release unclassified documents, but reserving the right to review everything deemed classified.
Sept. 27—In March 2004, four Blackwater employees were killed, and then their bodies mutilated by insurgents in the city of Fallujah. According to a report released by Waxman, Blackwater was guilty of negligence. Using internal company reviews and eyewitness accounts of the incident, Waxman’s oversight committee found that the company had failed to prepare its employees fully for travel in the insurgent stronghold. However, Blackwater spokesperson Anne Tyrell called the report a “one-sided version” of the incident, going on to say that the committee possessed documents proving the Blackwater team was “betrayed” and led into a “well-planned ambush.”
Weapons smuggling charges?

Reaction: Responses in the Senate and House

Analysis: Do contractors hurt U.S. military efforts? And under what judicial body are contractors governed?

Under what judicial body are contractors governed?

Opinion: Is Blackwater culprit or victim?

In defense of Blackwater and private military contractors
Criticizing Blackwater and private military contractors

Related Links: Mitt Romney’s Blackwater connection


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