Employees of Blackwater USA have engaged in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, in the vast majority of cases firing their weapons from moving vehicles without stopping to count the dead or assist the wounded, according to a new report from Congress.
In at least two cases, the company paid victims' family members who complained, and sought to cover up other episodes, the congressional report said. It said State Department officials approved the payments in the hope of keeping the shootings quiet.
In one case last year, the department helped Blackwater spirit an employee out of Iraq less than 36 hours after the employee, while drunk, killed a bodyguard for one of Iraq's two vice presidents on Christmas Eve.
The report -- prepared by the Democratic majority staff of the House of Representatives' Com-mittee on Oversight and Govern-ment Reform -- adds weight to complaints from Iraqi officials, US military officers and Blackwater's competitors that company guards have taken an aggressive, trigger-happy approach to their work and have repeatedly acted with reckless disregard for Iraqi life.
But the report is also harshly critical of the State Department for exercising virtually no restraint or supervision of the private security company's 861 employees in Iraq.
"There is no evidence in the documents that the committee has reviewed that the State Department sought to restrain Blackwater's actions, raised concerns about the number of shooting incidents involving Blackwater or the company's high rate of shooting first, or detained Blackwater contractors for investigation," the report states.
Neither the State Department nor Blackwater would comment on Monday about the 15-page report, but both said their representatives would address it yesterday in testimony before the committee.
The report -- based on 437 internal Blackwater incident reports as well as internal State Department correspondence -- said that Blackwater's use of force was "frequent and extensive, resulting in significant casualties and property damage."
In the case of the Christmas Eve killing, the report states that the acting ambassador at the US embassy suggested paying the slain bodyguard's family US$250,000, but a lower-ranking official said that such a high payment "could cause incidents with people trying to get killed by our guys to financially guarantee their family's future."
Blackwater ultimately paid the dead man's family US$15,000.
The Blackwater employee under investigation in that killing was so drunk after fleeing the shooting that another group of guards took away the loaded pistol he was fumbling with, the report said.
The guards, employees of Triple Canopy -- another contractor -- returned the weapon to the man, who smelled of alcohol, and escorted him away from their guard post in the fortified Green Zone, the report said.
Shortly afterward, the police detained the man, a 26-year-old whom the report did not name, at the Blackwater camp inside the Green Zone, but found he was too intoxicated to be interviewed.
Within 36 hours, the report said, Blackwater fired the man for possessing a firearm while drunk and arranged with the State Department to fly him back to the US, angering Iraqi officials who said the shooting was murder.
According to the report, the episode began between 10:30pm and 11:30pm on Dec. 24 when the off-duty Blackwater employee, who witnesses said had been drinking heavily, passed through a gate near Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki's compound in the Green Zone.
When confronted by bodyguards to Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi, the Blackwater employee fired his Glock 9mm pistol, hitting Raheem Khalif, three times. Khalif, 32, later died at a US military hospital.
The Blackwater employee fled to the Triple Canopy guard post, where he told the guards that he had been in a gunfight with Iraqis who were chasing him and shooting at him.
The next day, the Blackwater employee told US Army investigators that he had fired in self-defense after the Iraqi bodyguard shot at him. On Dec. 26, Blackwater flew the man out of Iraq to Jordan, and then to the US.
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