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Kathryn Helvenston-Wettengel (left), mother of Blackwater employee Stephen Helvenston who was ambushed and killed on March 31, 2004, in Fallujah, talks to Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL).
Kathryn Helvenston-Wettengel (left), mother of Blackwater employee Stephen Helvenston who was ambushed and killed on March 31, 2004, in Fallujah, talks to Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL). Alex Wong/Getty Images
Relatives of four American contract workers who were brutally killed in Iraq testify in Congress that the men, hired to provide security, were given inadequate armor and weapons to do their jobs. The mothers and widows of the workers have filed lawsuits against Blackwater, the company that hired them.
The incident in 2004 remains among the most gruesome images from the war in Iraq: Four American security contractors were killed in Fallujah, their bodies mutilated, dragged through the streets by an angry mob and strung over power lines.
The four were employees of Blackwater USA, a North Carolina-based private firm hired to provide protection for U.S. officials in Iraq. But the families of those killed on that day in March say that Blackwater failed to provide what the men needed to protect themselves.
The relatives of the dead Blackwater employees say the company ignored requests for armored vehicles, for heavy machine guns — even for a map. They said the men on the Fallujah mission requested they be sent out in three-man teams, but the company refused.
Appearing later before the same House Oversight Committee hearing, Blackwater general counsel Andrew Howell defended his company's conduct.
"The mission they were on that day at that point in time given the threat as it was known on the ground in Iraq," Howell said, "the norm was not to have the third person."
In the lawsuit against Blackwater, the relatives say they want information from the secretive company, not a financial reward. The Blackwater contract is part of a massive overall contract the government awarded to the Halliburton Company; Blackwater's involvement was a subcontract.
Republicans on the panel came to the defense of the Bush administration's practice of contracting out everything from meals to security in Iraq. They argued that today's hearing was not germane to contracting oversight.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said the relatives were using the hearing to try their case.
"Having you here to tell us about your loss," Issa said, "it's the subject of a lawsuit its ongoing and in fact this committee has no jurisdiction here."
Kathryn Helvenston-Wettengel, the mother of one of the slain Americans, answered Issa.
"We're subcontracting out our war," she said. "There's 100,000 contractors out there, and there doesn't seem to be a law that applies. They're literally getting away with murder."