Category Archives: Mercenaries

Blackwater ‘defrauded US by billing for prostitute in Kabul’

Members of a private security firm in Baghdad. It is alleged that Blackwater hired strippers under “cleaning services”. (Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty)

London Times | Feb 13, 2010

by Tim Reid in Washington

The controversial American security company Blackwater is facing new allegations of gross misconduct after two former employees said that it had repeatedly defrauded the US Government, including charging it for the use of a Filipina prostitute in Afghanistan.

In a federal lawsuit, Melan Davis, one of the former employees, accused the company of employing the prostitute in Kabul and charging the Government for her plane tickets and monthly salary under the “morale welfare recreation” expenses category.

The lawsuit also accuses the company, which has since been renamed XE Services after years of bad publicity, of charging the Government for the use of strippers after Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. The women were allegedly itemised under “cleaning services”.

The company is also accused of deceiving the Government by double-billing for travel costs and creating false invoices.

The lawsuit claims that the Government “has been damaged in the amount of many millions of dollars in funds” by Blackwater’s fraudulent accounting.

The most serious allegations against Blackwater, the biggest private security company used by the US Government in Iraq and Afghanistan, have centred on the use of excessive and lethal force against civilians.

The most controversial incident involved the shooting and killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square, Baghdad, in September 2007.

Last year a US judge threw out charges against five Blackwater guards over the deaths. The Obama Administration has said that it is going to appeal against the ruling. A sixth guard pleaded guilty earlier.

The company has also been accused of arms smuggling. An audit released last year found that the State Department could be owed as much as $55 million (£35 million) by Blackwater because the company failed to provide the personnel necessary to fulfil its contract during the months examined between 2006 and 2007.

Blackwater eventually lost its State Department contract in Iraq but continues to provide security services in Afghanistan.

The lawsuit was filed by Mrs Davis and her husband, Brad, a former Marine and Blackwater employee. Mrs Davis was sacked by the company and is challenging her dismissal.

She says that she first raised concerns about the book-keeping in March 2006 and was told to “back off” and that she “would never win a medal for saving the Government money”. Mr Davis, who served as a Blackwater team leader in Iraq, resigned.

The lawsuit was filed in 2008 but has just been unsealed after the US Justice Department declined to become a party to the case.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the company, said that the lawsuit was misguided and noted that the Justice Department had declined to join the lawsuit.

“The allegations are without merit and the company will vigorously defend against this lawsuit,” he said.

“It is noteworthy that the Government has declined to intervene in this action.”

From Blackwater to Xe, the Templar Crusade | Jan 13, 2010

by Michael Carmichael

Blackwater is a corporation that provides mercenary soldiers and supporting security personnel to the US government.

Erik Prince, the founder and owner of the now infamous US corporation, Blackwater, hails from Holland, Michigan where his family was both powerful and prominent in two institutions – (1) the Republican Party and (2) the evangelical Christian Church.  After scandals hit his large and lucrative firm, Prince ordered a curious rebranding that changed its name to Xe.

X is an archaic form of abbreviation for Christ and/or Christian that was derived from the cross and the Greek Alphabet.  X or Chi is the Greek letter that is the initial of “Christos” – X – which at the same time served as a symbol for the cross.  Sometimes written Chi-Rho, (Xp) is another abbreviation for Christos and his followers, the Christians.  From the perspective of medieval Christian symbology, ‘Xe’ is a combination of the Christic cross and the Greek letter, Epsilon, the first letter in the Greek word, Evangelion, glad tidings or gospel.  From the perspective of a modern member of the Knights Templar, Xe is immediately recognizable as it symbolizes Christian Evangelism.

Prince’s background

Eric Prince’s father owned a thriving automotive parts business and sent his son to Holland Christian School – an evangelical establishment that accepts students from Kindergarten through the 12th grade.  Since then, Prince has converted to Roman Catholicism – and may be a member or associate of Opus Dei, a very conservative cult now described as a prelature that is a strong ally of the current pope, Benedict XVI, who – when he was a Cardinal – paved the way for the beatification and canonization of the cult’s founder, St. Josemaria Escriva by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

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Iraqis say they were forced to take Blackwater settlement

Several of the plaintiffs say they were told the firm, now called Xe, was in danger of bankruptcy and that they might not get any damages at all. They want the agreements nullified.

LA Times | Jan 11, 2010

By Liz Sly

Reporting from Baghdad – Several victims of a 2007 shooting involving American private security guards employed by the firm formerly known as Blackwater alleged Sunday that they were coerced into reaching settlements, and they demanded that the Iraqi government intervene to have the agreements nullified.

The Iraqis said they were pressured by their own attorneys into accepting what they now believe are inadequate settlements because they were told the company was about to file for bankruptcy, that its chairman was going to be arrested and that the U.S. government was about to confiscate all of the firm’s assets. This would be their last chance to get any compensation, the victims said they were told.

When criminal charges against the guards were dismissed by a U.S. federal judge on Dec. 31, the Iraqis concluded that they had been duped and that Blackwater, now called Xe, was not in the kind of legal and financial trouble they had been led to believe.

“We signed the papers to accept a settlement because we had psychological pressure and some of us were threatened,” Mahdi Abdul Khodr, 45, told reporters Sunday at Iraq’s parliament. He led a delegation comprising representatives of nine of the victims’ families who petitioned Iraqi officials to exert pressure on the U.S. government to nullify the settlements.

Xe confirmed last week that it had reached out-of-court settlements in seven lawsuits filed in the September 2007 shooting in Nisoor Square that killed 17 Iraqis, as well as a string of other incidents in which company guards are alleged to have killed or injured Iraqis. Altogether, the suits covered 45 injured people and the families of 19 slain Iraqis who have all signed settlement agreements, according to court documents.

Civilian deaths

The Nisoor Square shootings were the bloodiest of numerous incidents in which Blackwater contractors are alleged to have fired on civilians, inflaming anti-U.S. sentiments and straining relations between the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

At least 14 civilians were killed and more than 20 injured when the guards opened fire in the busy square.

The charges against five guards accused in the shooting were thrown out on the grounds that the prosecution had built its case wrongly using statements the accused provided under immunity to State Department investigators.

The settlements were reached last fall in meetings at Baghdad’s Rasheed Hotel, where the claimants say they were required to sign a paper, written in English, and make videotaped testimony in Arabic, relinquishing all future claims against the company. Though Xe has not disclosed the settlement amounts, media reports say they averaged between $20,000 and $30,000 for an injury and $100,000 for a death.

Peter White, the lawyer representing Xe in the civil suits, said the company was not present at any of the meetings and “never stated to any victims or their counsel that it would be filing for bankruptcy.” All of the company’s contact with the victims was through the plaintiffs’ own lawyers, he said.

Susan Burke, the lawyer who represented the Iraqis in the civil case filed in Virginia, refused to comment Sunday, citing confidentiality agreements included as part of the settlements. She withdrew the civil suits last week.

After meeting with lawmakers, three members of the delegation described in separate interviews how they were summoned to the hotel and urged by their lawyers to accept the payouts. Burke was not at the meetings.

Fawzia Sharif, 53, whose husband, Ali Khalil, was among those killed at Nisoor Square, said Sunday that three Iraqi lawyers and one American attorney tried to persuade her to accept a settlement. She would not disclose the amount, but said it did not exceed the reported figures.

“At the beginning I refused,” Sharif said. “They spent three hours sitting with us and beseeching us to sign. They planted despair in our hearts, saying they are going to announce bankruptcy and the government is going to confiscate all their assets and you will not get any amount at all if you do not sign.”

“I feel I was deceived by them,” she said. “They told me the company is going to go bankrupt and this was my last chance. But now I wonder, how could this happen to such a big company?”

Feeling coerced

Khodr, the head of the delegation, lost his left eye in the shooting and spent three months in the hospital. He said he accepted a $10,000 settlement because “they told me Blackwater was about to go into bankruptcy, that their manager will be sent to prison and the government will confiscate all their assets.”

“I signed because I had financial difficulties and I needed the money,” said Sami Hawas, 45, a former taxi driver who accepted $30,000. He also lost an eye, walks with difficulty because of leg injuries and hasn’t worked since the shooting. “We don’t know English and we don’t know legal things. But now I think about it, it is not the amount I deserved.”

Not all those who settled are unhappy. Hassan Jabar Salman, an attorney who suffered injuries to his back, shoulder and arm, said in a telephone interview Sunday that he received significantly more than the amounts being reported and that he is satisfied. Because he is a lawyer, he said, “I know how to negotiate.”

An October ruling by a federal judge in the Virginia case suggests the Iraqis may have faced obstacles had they persisted. The ruling said that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the company could be sued in federal court, and it suggested that they refile using different arguments. That could have dragged the case out for several years, legal experts say.

“These lawsuits would not have been a piece of cake,” said Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School. “It would have been a real hassle and who knows what the outcome would be.”

Though there have been no published reports suggesting Xe is in danger of bankruptcy, it is also highly unlikely that any court would dismiss the out-of-court settlements without proof of coercion or fraud, especially as the plaintiffs’ own lawyers were present when they signed, said Robert Strassfeld, director of the Institute for Global Security Law and Policy at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

He described the amounts involved in the settlements as “disappointing,” but added, “I was fairly pessimistic about the likelihood of ever achieving justice in this case.”

A separate civil suit filed by several other victims of the Nisoor Square shootings is pending in a North Carolina court.

US pushing Pakistan into the abyss of oblivion

Theories abound about the identity of the perpetrators: Taliban, Indian agents, American agents, Afghan agents, Blackwater mercenaries and Mossad. The list is endless.

MMN | Jan 7, 2010

by Zafar Bangash

We are supposed to hate suicide bombers, those grotesque creatures hell-bent on killing innocent people because of their “demented ideology”. There is no shortage of experts delivering sermons from every pulpit pontificating on the evils of terrorism. Government officials and their media sycophants join in this chorus but few bother to ask whence these hateful creatures came? There were no suicide bombers in Pakistan or Afghanistan a mere five years ago. What happened during this period to give birth to the phenomenon of suicide bombings is a question that must be addressed in earnest.

No problem can be tackled or solved properly without understanding its genesis, the circumstances surrounding its emergence and factors that feed its growth. Equally important is the fact that if a particular approach fails to solve the problem, alternatives must be explored.

Pakistan is rapidly hurtling into the abyss of oblivion. Hardly a day passes by without a bomb explosion or suicide bombing in some part of the country. What possible excuse could there be for the murderous attack on a masjid as happened on December 4 that killed more than 40 people in Rawalpindi, we are asked. The coordinated attack by suicide bombers followed by armed men shooting worshippers during Friday prayers when the masjid was full was particularly gruesome. Among those killed were a major general, a brigadier, a colonel, two lieutenant colonels and two majors. Seventeen children were also killed.

Four days later (December 8), the Moon Market in Iqbal Town, Lahore was bombed when it was full of shoppers; 43 people died in that carnage. On December 9 the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) offices in Multan were attacked. Unable to enter the building, the attackers detonated their lethal wares in the nearby building where families of ISI officials live. The car bombing left 12 dead and scores injured. Many more such attacks will occur in the days to come if past experience is anything to go by. The brief hiatus during Eid al-Adha celebrations has been shattered with far greater bloodletting.

Theories abound about the identity of the perpetrators: Taliban, Indian agents, American agents, Afghan agents, Blackwater mercenaries and Mossad. The list is endless. All of them may be involved but how has this situation evolved? Why were there no suicide bombers a mere five years ago; what circumstances led to their emergence and who else is fishing in the troubled waters of Pakistan? Is the US a friend or foe? The people of Pakistan know the answer but Pakistani elites continue to harbor illusions about America’s friendship and believe it wants to help Pakistan — presumably over a cliff.

Immediately after the Moon Market bombing in Lahore, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the government had evidence that weapons were being smuggled from Afghanistan. Perhaps. Lahore Police chief, Pervez Rathore said India was involved. This may also be true. The Lahore daily, The Nation, reported on December 9 that two vehicles were stopped attempting to enter the restricted area of Lahore Cantonment late at night. The occupants were Americans who refused to show their identity papers or allow the police to search their vehicles. Officials from the US Consulate finally arrived at the scene to get the vehicles and their occupants freed. There is widespread belief that these were Blackwater mercenaries.

Thousands of Blackwater operatives (the organization has now renamed itself Xe Service to hide the criminal past associated with its former name) have descended on Pakistan. They carry prohibited weapons and on numerous occasions have been arrested by the police in suspicious circumstances only to be released on orders of Pakistani government officials. The US embassy in Islamabad has also hired a large number of retired army officers that act like warlords, trying to browbeat the police into submission. Poorly paid and lacking motivation, the police are easily intimidated by ex-army officers who throw their weight about driving in expensive, American-provided vehicles.

Last November, a plane load of Blackwater mercenaries arrived in Pakistan and were immediately whisked through Islamabad International Airport without going through immigration and customs formalities, according to officials at the airport quoted by The Nation newspaper (November 4, 2009). “We had instructions to allow the foreigners entry without custom procedure,” officials on duty at Islamabad airport said. Blackwater mercenaries have operated in Pakistan for many years. On several occasions Pakistani police have arrested them at odd hours near Pakistan’s nuclear sites or other sensitive installations. Every time ex-army officers working for the US embassy have intervened to secure their release. These former military officers and a long list of bureaucrats, journalists and politicians are on the US embassy payroll and are working directly against the interests of Pakistan.

Former Chief of Army Staff Mirza Aslam Baig has gone so far as to accuse the former military dictator Pervez Musharraf of being complicit in Blackwater crimes. General Baig has said it was Musharraf who gave these mercenaries the green light to carry out terrorist operations in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Quetta. The current civilian rulers, led by Asif Ali Zardari, a venal character and a notorious crook, are in no position to say no to the Americans. Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times reported on August 29, 2009 that the CIA hired these mercenaries for targeted assassinations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as early as 2004. Following a particularly gruesome episode in Baghdad in 2007 in which 17 Iraqis were murdered in cold blood, the Iraqi regime refused to grant the company an “operating license.” In a joint piece in the New York Times on December 11, Mazzetti and James Risen shed light on the tight relationship between the CIA and Blackwater. Hired for security duties, Blackwater operatives have indulged in wanton killings in Iraq. In Pakistan, the US hired them for illegal drone attacks as well as targeted killings.

Blackwater mercenaries are only one, even if the major problem facing Pakistan. There are other factors as well behind the escalating mayhem that is rapidly spinning out of control. The root of the problem is the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan that has now spilled over into Pakistan. As a consequence of the US-NATO war and brutality in Afghanistan and the incessant drone attacks, there is great resentment in Pakistan toward the US. With fighting concentrated primarily in the south and southeast of Afghanistan where the Pashtuns reside, mass killings there have aroused much anger among the Pashtuns on the Pakistan side of the border as well.

It was bad enough when the US-NATO forces launched their aerial assault with B-1 bombers in October 2001 killing thousands of people in Afghanistan; the bombing of wedding parties and defenseless villagers in their mud huts in subsequent years has intensified hatred of the US. This has been heightened by the Pakistan military launching operations against its own people in the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, Swat, Bajaur and now in Orakzai Agency. This ongoing painful chapter has contributed greatly to escalating tensions in Pakistan where none existed before, leading to the phenomenon of suicide bombings.

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Two Blackwater guards arrested for murder

Two Blackwater guards arrested for murder; company settles lawsuits

Raw Story | Jan 7, 2010

By Daniel Tencer

Two guards working for Xe Services, the company formerly known as Blackwater, were arrested Thursday on murder charges following a shootout after a car accident in Afghanistan last year.

If convicted, the two could face the death penalty.

The arrests came the same day as Blackwater settled seven civil lawsuits related to numerous incidents of violence in Iraq over several years, including the infamous Nissour Square massacre in 2007 that took the lives of 17 people.

The settlements “amount to an implicit admission by the highly secretive company that some of its guards were responsible for a series of unjustifiable killings,” reports The Guardian. “Blackwater appears to have reached the deal in order to avoid a court hearing that threatened to force the company to lay bare what critics contend was a policy of shooting first as well as the involvement of its employees in an array of criminal activities.”

The two Blackwater guards arrested Thursday — 27-year-old Justin Cannon and 29-year-old Chris Drotleff — maintain that “they were justified in opening fire on a car that caused an accident in front of their vehicle, then turned and sped toward them after they got out to help,” the Associated Press reports.

Iraq to support Blackwater lawsuit in US courts

Reuters | Jan 3, 2010

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq will help victims of the 2007 shooting of civilians in Baghdad to file a U.S. lawsuit against employees of security firm Blackwater, an incident that turned a spotlight on the United States’ use of private contractors in war zones.

Last week, a U.S. judge threw out charges against five guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians at a Baghdad traffic circle, saying the defendants’ constitutional rights had been violated.

Iraq called that decision “unacceptable and unjust” and, as well as supporting a lawsuit brought by Iraqis wounded in the shooting and families of those killed, it will ask the U.S. Justice Department to review the criminal case, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Sunday.

“The government will facilitate a lawsuit from Iraqi citizens to sue the guards and the company in a U.S. court,” he said.

The guards from Blackwater Worldwide, now known as Xe Services, say they shot across a crowded intersection in self-defense after hearing an explosion and gunfire.

But an Iraqi whose young son was killed in the incident said they indiscriminately fired at cars.

The shooting strained relations between Washington and Baghdad and became a symbol for many Iraqis of foreigners’ disregard for their lives.

Dabbagh said the court had “rejected the case on form, and not on its merits.”

Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, private guards protecting U.S. personnel were given immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts. That ended with a bilateral agreement that took effect last year.

The five guards were charged in a U.S. federal court with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 of attempting to commit manslaughter and one weapons violation. A sixth Blackwater guard pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempting to commit manslaughter, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Dabbagh said Iraq was conducting an investigation into whether current or former Blackwater employees were still operating in the country, including with other firms.

He said Iraq did not want them on its soil, but did not say whether they would be expelled.

“We do not want any member of this company, which committed more than one crime in Iraq, to work in Iraq.”

In a speech to Iraq’s parliament on Sunday, lawmaker Omar al-Jubouri suggested a way the government could retaliate for the decision of the U.S. courts.

“Ask the Iraqi courts to release all the (Iraqi) defendants … sentenced to death for killing Americans in Iraq, as an act of reciprocity with the U.S. judicial system,” he said.

(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; writing by Missy Ryan; editing by Angus MacSwan)

Iraq ‘regrets’ US decision to clear Blackwater guards

BBC | Jan 1, 2010

Iraq has criticised a US judge’s dismissal of all charges against guards from US security firm Blackwater over the killing of 17 Iraqis in 2007.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said an Iraqi investigation showed the men had committed a “serious crime” and Baghdad would seek to prosecute them.

The five had all pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. A sixth guard admitted killing at least one Iraqi.

The judge dismissed the charges against the guards over procedural errors.

District Judge Ricardo Urbina said the US justice department had used evidence prosecutors were not supposed to have.

Mr al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi government “regrets and is disappointed by the US court’s decision”.

“Inquiries carried out by the Iraqi government clearly confirm that the Blackwater guards committed a crime and used weapons when there was no threat necessitating the use of force,” he said.

He said Iraq would “act forcefully and decisively to prosecute the Blackwater criminals”.

The Iraqi human rights minister, Wejdan Mikhail, said she was “astonished” by the US move.

“There was so much work done to prosecute these people and to take this case into court and I don’t understand why the judge took this decision,” the AFP news agency quoted her as saying.

The commander of US forces in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, said the court’s decision could create local resentment against other security firms operating in the country.

“Of course we’re upset when we believe that people might have caused a crime and they are not held accountable,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

The killings, which took place in Nisoor Square, Baghdad, strained Iraq’s relationship with the US and raised questions about US contractors operating in war zones.

A man whose son died in the incident said he was surprised to hear the guards had been acquitted.

“But what can we do? We cannot do anything with the US government and their law,” he told Reuters.

Lawyers for the five guards say they were acting in self-defence, but witnesses and family members of those killed maintain that the shooting on 16 September 2007 was unprovoked.

A civil case against Blackwater brought by Iraqis – including relatives of some of the Nisoor Square victims – is still before a Virginia court.

It alleges that Blackwater employees engaged in indiscriminate killings.

Expecting justice, Iraqis get bitter shock as judge throws out Blackwater shooting case

CP | Jan 1, 2010

By Rebecca Santana

BAGHDAD — Iraqis seeking justice for 17 people shot dead at a Baghdad intersection responded with bitterness and outrage Friday at a U.S. judge’s decision to throw out a case against a Blackwater security team accused in the killings.

The Iraqi government vowed to pursue the case, which became a source of contention between the U.S. and the Iraqi government. Many Iraqis also held up the judge’s decision as proof of what they’d long believed: U.S. security contractors were above the law.

“There is no justice,” said Bura Sadoun Ismael, who was wounded by two bullets and shrapnel during the shooting. “I expected the American court would side with the Blackwater security guards who committed a massacre in Nisoor Square.”

What happened on Nisoor Square on Sept. 16, 2007, raised Iraqi concerns about their sovereignty because Iraqi officials were powerless to do anything to the Blackwater employees who had immunity from local prosecution. The shootings also highlighted the degree to which the U.S. relied on private contractors during the Iraq conflict.

Blackwater had been hired by the State Department to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq. The guards said they were ambushed at a busy intersection in western Baghdad, but U.S. prosecutors and many Iraqis said the Blackwater guards let loose an unprovoked attack on civilians using machine-guns and grenades.

“Investigations conducted by specialized Iraqi authorities confirmed unequivocally that the guards of Blackwater committed the crime of murder and broke the rules by using arms without the existence of any threat obliging them to use force,” Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement Friday.

He did not elaborate on what steps the government planned to take to pursue the case.

The shootings led the Iraqi government to strip the North Carolina-based company of its license to work in the country, and Blackwater replaced its management and changed its name to Xe Services.

Five guards from the company were charged in the case with manslaughter and weapons violations. The charges carried mandatory 30-year prison terms, but a federal judge Friday dismissed all the charges.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina cited repeated government missteps in the investigation, saying that prosecutors built their case on sworn statements that the guards had given with the idea that they would be immune from prosecution.

That explanation held little sway with Iraqis outraged over the case.

Dr. Haitham Ahmed’s wife and son were both killed in their car during the shooting.

“The rights of our victims and the rights of the innocent people should not be wasted,” he said.

Iraqis have followed the case closely and said the judge’s decision demonstrated that the Americans were considered above the law.

“I was not astonished by the verdict because the trial was unreal. They are using double standards and talking about human rights, but they are the first to violate these rights. They are killing innocents deliberately,” said Ahmed Jassim, a civil engineer in the southern city of Najaf.

Dozens of Iraqis have filed a separate lawsuit alleging that Blackwater employees engaged in indiscriminate killings and beatings. That civil case was not affected by Urbina’s decision and is still before a Virginia court.

Mohammed al-Kinani, whose son was killed, said he had been invited once to the U.S. by the Justice Department as a witness but said he went two more times after that to follow the case.

“I will not despair,” he said.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the commanding general in Iraq, said he understood that people would be upset with the decision.

“Of course people are not going to like it, because they believe that these individuals conducted some violence and should be punished for it, but the bottom line is, using the rule of law, the evidence is not there,” he said. “I worry about it because clearly there were innocent people killed in this attack.”

Of all the private security companies that mushroomed in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion, Blackwater was the most well-known and vilified.

Their employees were at the centre of what is considered one of the key moments of the war. A vehicle with four Blackwater employees driving through the western city of Fallujah, a centre of the Sunni insurgency, was hit by gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades in March 2004. Their charred, mutilated bodies were dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge over the Euphrates river.

The bloody incident was one of the key reasons the U.S. military attacked Fallujah in April 2004.

Another Blackwater guard, Andrew Moonen, was accused by the family of a guard for an Iraqi vice-president of shooting and killing the guard without provocation on Christmas Eve of 2006 after Moonen got drunk at a party in the Green Zone and then got lost. Moonen’s lawyer has described the incident as self-defence.

An October 2007 report by a House of Representatives committee called Blackwater an out-of-control outfit indifferent to Iraqi civilian casualties. Blackwater chairman Erik Prince told the committee that the company acted appropriately at all times.

Were the incident to happen again today, the legal outcome might be much different. The U.S.-Iraqi security pact that took effect Jan. 1, 2009, lifted the immunity that foreign contractors had in Iraq. A British security contractor accused of shooting two colleagues is currently being held in Iraq and could be the first Westerner to face an Iraqi court since the immunity was lifted.

Associated Press Writers Katharine Houreld, Saad Abdul-Kadir and Bushra Juhi contributed to this report.

Blackwater trial: 15 minutes of gunfire which left 17 dead | Jan 1, 2010

by Martin Chulov

When a Blackwater convoy approached Baghdad’s fortified green zone just after midday on 16 September, 2007, the hundreds of Iraqi drivers inching through the choking traffic witnessed a familiar scene.

Iraqi guards waved through three armoured trucks towards a military lane spilling off Nissour Square in the central city. Any private vehicle that even tries to enter is often fired on.

Abdul Wahad Abdul-Kahad remembers grinding to a stop as non-Iraqi guards cleared a path for a second Blackwater convoy. A helicopter hovered overhead.

“It was about noon,” he recalled. ”I heard a bursts of fire enter the car in front of me. It caught fire and a lady and her son were killed. I tried to drive away down the wrong side of the road but they shot at me and hit me in the arm.”

There was screaming and blood all around as Iraqi police and soldiers tried to return fire on the Blackwater guards who had started the shooting.

“The shooting may have continued for 15 minutes,” Abdul-Kahad said. “It’s hard to be sure. I was crouched and bleeding in my car for an hour until Iraqi guards came to rescue me. I still haven’t recovered from what I went through.”

An Iraqi police officer who cleared a path for the first Blackwater crew to enter the square said the shooting had been unprovoked.

“The man in the third car fired three or four shots randomly,” the police officer, Salman, told his American lawyers who provided a videotape of his account to the public broadcaster NPR. He said the first shooter was “big, had a moustache and was white.”

Salman saw the car in front of Abdul Kahad catch fire. “Boom, boom, boom,” he said. “The car had started moving very slowly by itself because it was an automatic car. It was moving toward the square, and at this moment they started shooting the car with big machine guns. And then the car exploded.”

When the scene was cleared, 17 people were dead. Apart from two Iraqi security officers, all were civilians.

The shooting became a flashpoint for a city that had become as fatigued by the excesses of foreign companies as it had by the year’s incessant violence. Resentment boiled over at security company convoys that operated with impunity throughout the lawless streets.

After the shooting, Iraqis took to the airwaves in large numbers to complain about security companies, which they saw as a foreboding presence and, in some ways, a throwback to the Saddam days when the state-sanctioned gun-slingers could shoot at will.

As the violence grew throughout 2004-5, security details rarely hesitated before firing a burst from a machine gun at any car that even inadvertently strayed close. They operated outside the law. But even worse was a strong feeling that the companies operated without respect for Iraqi citizens.

For almost seven years, Iraqis had slammed their brakes at the hulking armoured convoys of security firms that terrified civilians. The most infamous name was Blackwater.

Soon after the fall of Baghdad, security companies arrived in droves seeking the lucrative contracts that were soon to flow in helping raise a state from the post-Saddam ruins.

Blackwater won the lead contract to defend key US government institutions, including the Baghdad Embassy. Its numbers grew rapidly, drawing largely on ex-US military special operations units. At $600 per day, it was fast, if not always easy, money for ex-soldiers used to one third of the salary, worse conditions and often higher risk.

A resentment quickly grew in the highly competitive, macho private security scene that Blackwater operatives were the proletarian guard, the rest were foot soldiers. Blackwater was soon the biggest private army in Iraq and could have laid a claim on being the biggest and most powerful private force anywhere in the world.

“They came and they went, as they should have,” said Rihab Abdul Karim, whose nephew was killed in Nissour Square. “They were arrogant with the power they had. They thought they answered to no-one. And with this verdict, maybe they were right.”

Charges against Blackwater contractors dismissed

CNN | Dec 31, 2009

A woman passes a burnt-out car in the aftermath of the 2007 shootout in Baghdad, Iraq.

Washington (CNN) — A federal judge dismissed manslaughter charges Thursday against five Blackwater security guards in the 2007 deaths of Iraqi civilians in a Baghad square, finding that prosecutors wrongly used the men’s own statements against them.

The September 2007 shootout in Baghdad’s Nusoor Square left 17 Iraqis dead and two dozen wounded. The killings led Iraq’s government to slap limits on security contractors hired by Blackwater, now known as Xe, and other firms.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina found that the government’s case was built largely on “statements compelled under a threat of job loss in a subsequent criminal prosecution,” a violation of the Fifth Amendment rights of the five men charged.

“In their zeal to bring charges against the defendant in this case, the prosecutors and investigators aggressively sought out statements the defendants had been compelled to make to government investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and in the subsequent investigation,” Urbina wrote in a 90-page decision.

Federal prosecutors “repeatedly disregarded the warnings of experienced, senior prosecutors assigned to the case” in doing so, he found.

Urbina also sharply criticized prosecutors and federal agents who developed the case, calling their explanations for using the guards’ statements “all too often contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility.”

“In short, the government has utterly failed to prove that it made no impermissible use of the defendants’ statements or that such use was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt,” he wrote.

There was no immediate response to the decision from the Justice Department, which can appeal Thursday’s ruling or seek new indictments against the men.

The men were guarding a State Department convoy moving through western Baghdad when the shooting began. The company said its contractors came under attack, but Iraqi authorities called the gunfire unprovoked and indiscriminate.

Each of the now-former guards — Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard, Donald Ball and Nicholas Slatten — faced 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.

Prosecutors requested that charges against Slatten be dropped in November, but Thursday’s ruling dismisses the counts against all five.

“We’re obviously pleased at the decision dismissing the entire indictment and are very happy that these courageous young men can begin the new year without this unfair cloud hanging over them,” said Slough’s lawyer, Mark Hulkower.

A sixth guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, pleaded guilty in 2008 to voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.