US soldiers: Blackwater attacked fleeing Iraqi civilians
American troops investigating the deadly Sept. 16 incident in Baghdad found no evidence that security contractors were fired upon.
The Blackwater security forces that opened fire on a public square in Baghdad last month, leaving 17 dead, attacked fleeing Iraqi civilians in a "criminal event," according to American soldiers on the scene just minutes after the incident. News of the Army report comes just a day after the families of three Iraqis killed in the September 16 incident, along with another Iraqi man who was injured, filed a lawsuit against Blackwater in US federal court. The fallout over the incident has made it increasingly difficult for contractors to operate in Iraq, and also Afghanistan.Skip to next paragraph
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The Washington Post says that according to their report, the US soldiers – after investigations at the square and interviews with witnesses and Iraqi police – found no evidence that any Iraqis had fired weapons and concluded that there was "no enemy activity involved." They did find evidence, however, that indicated Blackwater contractors fired on civilian vehicles fleeing the square.
"It appeared to me they were fleeing the scene when they were engaged. It had every indication of an excessive shooting," said Lt. Col. Mike Tarsa, whose soldiers reached Nisoor Square 20 to 25 minutes after the gunfire subsided.
Tarsa said they found no evidence to indicate that the Blackwater guards were provoked or entered into a confrontation. "I did not see anything that indicated they were fired upon," said Tarsa, 42, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. He also said it appeared that several drivers had made U-turns and were moving away from Nisoor Square when their vehicles were hit by gunfire from Blackwater guards.
"Blackwater created and fostered a culture of lawlessness amongst its employees, encouraging them to act in the company's financial interests at the expense of innocent human life," the 17-page complaint says. Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said the company was aware of the lawsuit and would defend itself vigorously. She declined to comment further on the Nisoor Square incident until an ongoing FBI investigation is completed.
Blackwater's woes were compounded Thursday by the release of a United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) report that calls for the US to hold security contractors accountable for offenses committed in Iraq.
The legal status of thousands of private contractors working in Iraq remains unclear. While not officially considered employees of the US government, Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 17 of 2004 nevertheless grants them immunity from prosecution within the Iraqi judicial system "with respect to acts performed by them pursuant to the terms and conditions of a Contract or any sub-contract thereto." While CPA Order 17 also enables the US Government to waive a contractor's immunity, to UNAMI's knowledge it has not done so to date.
Certain categories of contractor employees are subject to US military law under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), amended in January 2007 to broaden its scope to allow military jurisdiction over persons "serving with or accompanying an armed force in the field" during a "time of declared war or a contingency operation". Contractors who commit offences over which the US Government has extraterritorial jurisdiction can also be prosecuted in the US court system. UNAMI shares ICRC's [International Committee of the Red Cross] view that private military firms must respect international humanitarian law and that the increasing recourse to their services "risks eroding the fundamental distinction between civilians and combatants because these people may not appear clearly as quite one or the other".