September 28, 2007 in Nation/World

Report blasts Blackwater’s role in ‘04 massacre

Joseph Neff and Jay Price McClatchy
Associated Press photo

Associated Press Soad Ali sits with her husband, Hassan Jabar, 37, in a Baghdad hospital Thursday. Jabar was shot four times by Blackwater guards in the Mansour neighborhood.
(Full-size photo)

Democrats in Congress released a scathing report Thursday on the 2004 massacre of four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah, charging that the company rushed unprepared into a sloppy mission, skimped on security to save money and stonewalled when Congress tried to investigate.

The report ratchets up the pressure on Blackwater, already under intense scrutiny for a Sept. 16 shooting in Baghdad that killed 11 Iraqis.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who’s seldom seen in public, is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, whose majority staff issued Thursday’s report. The committee, led by Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, will likely grill Prince about the Fallujah and Baghdad incidents and the company’s effect on the war in Iraq.

Thursday’s report, based on government reports and internal Blackwater documents, said:

“Blackwater, a for-profit company, opted to use unarmored vehicles to save money and cut essential personnel from the mission. An internal Blackwater report said Blackwater’s contract paid for armored vehicles but “management in North Carolina … made the decision to go with soft skin due to the cost.”

“Blackwater ignored the warnings of a British security firm, which had twice turned down the same mission “due to the obvious risk of transporting slow-moving loads through such a volatile area.”

“Blackwater impeded the congressional investigation by claiming that key documents were classified. The documents weren’t secret, despite an attempt by Blackwater’s general counsel, the Pentagon’s former top auditor, to try to persuade defense officials to classify them after the fact.

Blackwater didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Images of the March 31, 2004, ambush were flashed around the world after a mob dragged the bodies of the contractors through the streets and hanged two charred corpses from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

The attack set off the abortive first battle of Fallujah in April 2004, which ended with the deaths of 36 U.S. troops, and about 200 insurgents and 600 civilians.

Fallujah became a haven for insurgents for seven months, until the Marines attacked and captured the city at a cost of at least 51 Americans, and 1,200 insurgents and Iraqi civilians killed. Large swaths of the city were reduced to rubble.

After the incident, many Blackwater personnel gave statements or wrote reports describing Blackwater’s Baghdad operation as chaotic and lacking qualified workers.

One Blackwater employee described it as a “flat-out sloppy … operation.”

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