Embassy Report Differs on Blackwater Shooting
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
We begin this hour with the investigations into Blackwater USA and the shooting of Iraqi civilians. Multiple investigations got underway after the incident on September 16th in which Blackwater security contractors killed civilians in Baghdad.
Steve Fainaru is following the story for the Washington Post. And, Steve, you report today that you got a copy of what's called a first blush account from the scene of that incident, and this is the version being told by Blackwater guards. What are they saying?
Mr. STEVE FAINARU (Correspondent, The Washington Post): Well, the report was essentially a spot report that was done by the U.S. Embassy's Regional Security Office immediately after the incident. And they interviewed the Blackwater guards who were involved and compiled a two-page document. I mean, I think that what's clear from this spot report is how incredibly chaotic this day was and the complexity of what occurred.
It started with this car bomb attack that happened with Blackwater protecting this official inside this - what was described as a financial compound. And, apparently, that bomb went off about 25 yards outside the entrance. Now, Blackwater, at that point, decided to extract the official. That's when it really started to get messy.
They called in two quick reaction force teams, what were called in the report as tactical support teams. One of the tactical support teams was involved in escorting the other team and the official back to the Green Zone. It was the third team that was involved in this melee in the traffic circle.
The Blackwater guard said that they ultimately made it out of the traffic circle after this - what they described as this firefight and ended up back in the Green Zone. But one of the other tactical support teams was then apparently sent out to extract that team from the situation in the traffic circle. And when they arrived, the other team was already gone according to this report, but they encountered a huge array of Iraqi security forces - police, army, commandos who have been stationed in towers and found themselves surrounded.
So they then called in the U.S. military. The military came in with their own quick reaction force and essentially mediated - was the word that was used in the spot report - this dispute and got the Blackwater guards back to the Green Zone.
BLOCK: And according to the Blackwater guards, they were fired upon. That's their version.
Mr. FAINARU: Yeah. In the report, it says that they began to take fire from multiple directions from 8 to 10 people who were dressed in civilian attire and Iraqi police uniforms. The Iraqi government and Iraqi witnesses have stated that the incident occurred without provocation. As they described, it was essentially a free for all.
BLOCK: It's hard to imagine two accounts that vary more widely about what went on that day.
Mr. FAINARU: Yeah. I think that's going to be extremely difficult to sort out. The situation is polarized politically. I think part of the problem is that the Iraqi government had become extremely frustrated with Blackwater and a perception that the State Department had been protecting Blackwater. I think what's going to be really interesting is to see how they sort it all out.
BLOCK: You also report in your story in the Washington Post today that a Blackwater guard during this incident on September 16th drew his weapon on his Blackwater colleagues and screamed at them to stop shooting.
Mr. FAINARU: Right. We're hearing from one U.S. official that some of the Blackwater guards have described an internal confrontation that occurred during the incident in which, at least, one Blackwater guard drew his weapon against one of his colleagues in an attempt to get him to stop shooting.
BLOCK: The State Department is now saying it will send a team to Baghdad that's going to review all of its security practices, including how they use private contractors like Blackwater. What do you think is going to come out of that review?
Mr. FAINARU: You know, I really don't know. And I think that, ultimately, they're going to have to decide what are they going to do about Blackwater if, in fact, the Iraqi government is going to follow through with its request that Blackwater be expelled from the country, then someone is going to have to fill that vacuum. So the work involved is complex to say the least.
BLOCK: Well, Steve Fainaru, thanks very much.
Mr. FAINARU: Thank you.
BLOCK: Steve Fainaru covers private security in Iraq for the Washington Post.
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