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1 Jul 2020

Iraq - Blackwater incident, 16 Sep 2007

On 16 Sep 2007, Blackwater personnel guarding a US diplomatic convoy in Western Baghdad opened fire.  The company and the US Government claim the convoy had been attacked but other accounts stated Blackwater's gunfire was unprovoked.  According to reports, between 8 and 20 civilians were killed and over 10 were wounded in the firefight.  The Iraqi Government stated that Blackwater's licence to operate in Iraq would be revoked.  A selection of articles & commentaries published shortly after the incident follows.  For further information about Blackwater, see the Resource Centre's section on the company.

Al Jazeera, 18 Sep

US vows Blackwater killings probe, Al Jazeera, 18 Sep 2007

"The US has vowed to investigate a deadly Iraqi civilian shooting after the Iraqi government ordered Blackwater USA, the main American security firm in the country, to get out over the killings."

CNN, 17 Sep

Iraq battle was self-defense, security firm says, CNN, 17 Sep 2007

"Iraqi officials Monday condemned the weekend killings of eight civilians during a Baghdad street battle involving American security contractors and said they would shut down Blackwater, the company involved...

Blackwater's employees were protecting a U.S. official when they were hit by 'a large explosive device, then repeated small-arms fire -- and to the point where it disabled one of the vehicles, and the vehicle had to be towed out of the firefight,' said Marty Strong, vice president of Blackwater USA...

The Diplomatic Security Service has launched an official investigation, a review that will be supported by the Multi-National Forces-Iraq, [US] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said...

The weekend's incident raised concerns in the U.S. Congress about the use of private security guards. Rep. Henry Waxman, [chair of the] House Oversight and Government Reform Committee... [said] 'The controversy over Blackwater is an unfortunate demonstration of the perils of excessive reliance on private security contractors'...

Iraqi authorities have issued previous complaints about shootings by private military contractors, the Congressional Research Service reported in July...

The Congressional Research Service report cited other concerns, such as 'the apparent lack of a practical means to hold contractors accountable under U.S. law for abuses and other transgressions and the possibility that they could be prosecuted by foreign courts.'

The reported added, 'Iraqi courts do not have jurisdiction to prosecute contractors without the permission of the relevant member country of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq.'

Contractors fall under Justice Department and FBI jurisdiction for alleged crimes, said a Pentagon official, who confirmed the accuracy of the congressional report."

Blackwater response - Bloomberg, 17 Sep

Blackwater Denies Any Wrongdoing in Shooting Incident, Ken Fireman and Robin Stringer, Bloomberg, 17 Sep 2007

"Anne Tyrrell, director of public affairs for Blackwater, said its personnel fired only in self-defense while protecting a motorcade of U.S. officials traveling through the Iraqi capital yesterday... `We were responding to a threat,' Tyrrell said in a telephone interview. `We were fired upon before we ever engaged. So we are confident that as soon as all investigations are complete, it will be determined that we did nothing wrong.'...

Tyrrell said the incident began when the motorcade `took fire from various directions' as it passed through a heavily trafficked area.

She said Blackwater personnel guarding the convoy responded with small-arms fire, shooting only at those who were attacking the motorcade. She said at least one Blackwater helicopter arrived on the scene and circled the area, yet didn't open fire.

`We responded well within the rules of engagement to protect our people,' Tyrrell said. `And we protected them and then we got out. They did their jobs defending American life.' "

commentary by Peter Singer, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution, 17 Sep

Blackwater Ban "Inevitable", Peter Singer, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution [USA], on Wired.com's Danger Room, 17 Sep 2007

"It was inevitable. Private military contractors have been involved in all sorts of questionable incidents, since the very start of the Iraq enterprise... [As] Brigadier General Karl Horst, deputy commander of the US 3rd Infantry Division (responsible for Baghdad area) tellingly put it two years back, 'These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There’s no authority over them, so you can’t come down on them hard when they escalate force. They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath.'

No one has kept an exact count of the incidents, but some notable examples include [examples involving Aegis, Triple Canopy, Zapata, Titan (now L-3 Titan, part of L-3 Communications), CACI]...

The  relationship between the Iraqi government and Blackwater is particularly tense...

The problems with the absence of oversight, management, doctrine, and even law and order when it comes to private military contractors have been known for a while... [T]here have been several recent efforts at bringing some transparency and oversight to the U.S. side of the industry."

"What happens to private contractors who kill Iraqis? Maybe nothing" - Salon.com, 18 Sep

What happens to private contractors who kill Iraqis? Maybe nothing, Alex Koppelman and Mark Benjamin, Salon.com, 18 Sep 2007

“…pulling Blackwater's license may be all the Iraqis can do. Should any Iraqis ever seek redress for the deaths of the civilians in a criminal court, they will be out of luck. Because of an order promulgated by the Coalition Provisional Authority…there appears to be almost no chance that the contractors involved would be, or could be, successfully prosecuted in any court in Iraq…Should any attempt be made to prosecute Blackwater in the United States, meanwhile, it's not clear what law, if any, applies.

"Blackwater and all these other contractors are beyond the reach of the justice process in Iraq. They can not be held to account," says Scott Horton, who chairs the International Law Committee at the New York City Bar Association…

That leaves international and U.S. law. But international law is probably out. Even before the Bush administration, the United States had established a precedent of rejecting the jurisdiction of international courts. The United States is not, for example, a member of the International Criminal Court in the Hague…

U.S. law, meanwhile, is hopelessly murky…the introduction of private contractors into Iraq was not accompanied by a definitive legal construct specifying potential consequences for alleged criminal acts. Various members of Congress are now attempting to clarify the laws that might apply to contractors…The problem is that no one seems quite sure what law, if any, would apply to security firm contractors, and any potential applications are untested and would be vigorously challenged.

Back in Baghdad…it's not clear that Blackwater even has a license to revoke.”

"Iraq to review security firms" - AFP, 18 Sep

Iraq to review security firms after deadly shootout, AFP, 18 Sep 2007

"Iraq declared on Tuesday it will review the operations of all security firms working in the war-ravaged country following a deadly shootout involving private US contractor Blackwater.

A top judge also said Blackwater could face trial over Sunday's incident in Baghdad, which left 10 people dead and was branded a "criminal" act by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki...

...Judge Abdul Sattar Ghafour Bairaqdar, from Iraq's highest court the Supreme Judiciary Council, said Blackwater could face trial.

"This company is subject to Iraqi law and the crime committed was on Iraqi territory and the Iraqi judiciary is responsible for tackling the case," he said.

The judge said the case against Blackwater -- which is one of the biggest private security firms operating inside Iraq with about 1,000 staff -- could be filed either by relatives of the victims or by the government..."

"Iraqi Report Says Blackwater Guards Fired First" - New York Times, 18 Sep

Iraqi Report Says Blackwater Guards Fired First, Sabrina Tavernise & James Glanz, New York Times, 18 Sep 2007:

"A preliminary Iraqi report on a shooting involving an American diplomatic motorcade said Tuesday that Blackwater security guards were not ambushed, as the company reported, but instead fired at a car when it did not heed a policeman’s call to stop, killing a couple and their infant...

The Ministry of Defense said 20 Iraqis had been killed, a far higher number than had been reported before...

The shooting, which took place on Sunday, has angered Iraqi officials and touched off a harsh debate about private security companies, which operate outside Iraqi law, a privilege extended to them by Americans officials while Iraq’s government was still under American administration...

In interviews on Tuesday, six Iraqis who had been in the area at the time of the shooting, including a man who was wounded and an Iraqi Army soldier who helped rescue people, offered roughly similar versions."

statement by Mila Rosenthal, Amnesty Intl. USA, 18 Sep

Human Rights Abuses Go Unpunished as Civilian Contractors Escape Accountability in Iraq, Says Amnesty International USA, 18 Sep 2007

"Amnesty International USA Business and Human Rights Program Director Mila Rosenthal [said]... 'The banning of Blackwater by Iraq further highlights why Congress needs to act now to ensure that U.S. contractor employees are held legally responsible for criminal acts. Amnesty International knows that contractor personnel implicated in serious violent incidents have been spirited out of theater by their employers before a full investigation could be conducted, even when there were credible allegations of murder of innocent civilians...

...When the U.S. military deploys, it takes with it a code of law and the means and will to enforce it. Thus far, civilian contractors have escaped such clear, applicable and enforceable legal procedures. This means that victims have no access to justice, and human rights abuses go unpunished.' "

"Blackwater working again" - BBC, 21 September

Blackwater working again in Iraq, BBC News, 21 Sep

"...Blackwater has resumed limited operations in...Baghdad...

It had been ordered by the Iraqi government too halt operations while a joint US-Iraqi inquiry was held.

A US embassy spokeswoman said the decision to allow Blackwater to resume work had been taken in consultation with the Iraqi government...

A separate Iraqi interior ministry investigation has found that Blackwater was "100% guilty" of the incident in which 11 Iraqi civilians were killed.

Blackwater says its guards acted in self-defence, but this has been disputed by Iraqi eyewitnesses...

The report also calls for the lifting of legal immunity for foreign security companies operating in Iraq."