MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
We begin today with a new twist in the story of a controversial shooting by security contractors in Iraq. An FBI investigation has found that employees of Blackwater USA violated rules about the use of deadly force, that's according to a report in the New York Times. The FBI has been investigating the incident that occurred on September 16th in Baghdad. Blackwater guards opened fire in a busy traffic circle. At least 17 Iraqis were killed.
NORRIS: The case prompted the State Department to announce stricter rules governing security contractors and has prompted action in Congress. In a moment, we'll hear from a representative who has sponsored legislation to address some of the legal questions.
First, I'm joined by David Johnston who reported the story in the New York Times.
Mr. DAVID JOHNSTON (Investigative Reporter, New York Times): Hi.
NORRIS: Could you tell us more about what the FBI has found so far in this investigation?
Mr. JOHNSTON: Well, the investigation is still continuing, and there are no final conclusions yet. But what the investigation has found so far is that, that in a very chaotic scene, there's no evidence to suggest that the Blackwater security guards were fired upon, and that they opened fire into this intersection for - without the adequate justification for the use of lethal force. Under the rules that the security contractors must obey in Iraq is that you can only open fire if you believe you or someone else is under imminent threat.
NORRIS: And there were 17 Iraqi civilians killed in this incident. I understand that the FBI has determined that the death of a large number of those killed were - was unjustified.
Mr. JOHNSTON: Most of the fatalities, at least 14, were not justified according to the FBI investigation so far. And the other three, included two people who were in a car that was rolling towards the traffic circle when the Blackwater contingent arrived on the scene, and to some investigators may have been perceived by Blackwater to have represented a threat. There's not unanimity about this belief but it's possible that those killings and one other, which is still unclear to us, is that those were fall under the lethal force rules.
NORRIS: Now, at the time of this incident back in September, September 16th, what were the actual guidelines for these contractors from the use of deadly force?
Mr. JOHNSTON: Well, they are what they are today. Those rules haven't changed. You cannot use lethal force against anyone unless you believe your life is in danger or someone else's life is in danger. This is a very standard lethal force policy for law enforcement agencies the world over and really is the product of Supreme Court cases.
NORRIS: David, just very quickly, how difficult is it for the FBI to conduct this kind of investigation?
Mr. JOHNSTON: This has been, apparently, very difficult. Unlike a crime scene in the United States where within minutes the scene is roped off and secured. In this case, the FBI did not even get there until weeks afterwards. Bodies had, you know, had been buried. They haven't recovered all of the people who were killed. They tried to recover shell casings to do ballistics work, but the city is apparently covered with spent shell casings, very difficult.
Blackwater employees who had been interviewed in the course of a State Department inquiry often did not cooperate with FBI investigators. Their - the investigators are comfortable with their overall findings but it has been very difficult to conduct investigation under these circumstances.
NORRIS: David Johnston is a writer for the New York Times. David, thank you very much.
Mr. JOHNSTON: Thank you.