(Reuters) - Blackwater, the embattled U.S. security contractor, defended itself in Congress on Tuesday over “escalation of force” incidents in Iraq that a congressional report said equal 1.4 shootings per week.
The report prepared by Democratic staff of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said Blackwater has been involved in 195 shooting incidents since 2005 and shot first 84 percent of the time despite a contract agreement to use force only in defense.
The report said Blackwater usually does not remain at the scene to determine if there are casualties. But Blackwater’s own incident reports still record 16 Iraqi casualties and 162 instances of property damage, mainly to Iraqi vehicles.
Blackwater activities came under intense scrutiny in Washington after a September 16 shooting killed 11 Iraqi civilians, wounded 14 and initially prompted the Iraqi government to revoke the company’s license.
Following are five other incidents listed in the Democratic report from the committee chaired by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman of California.
* June 2005, a Blackwater team killed an Iraqi man with a shot to the chest. The victim’s brothers reported to the State Department that the father of six was killed as an innocent bystander. An internal State Department document said the Blackwater personnel who fired the shots initially failed to report the shooting and sought to cover it up.
* October 2005, a Blackwater team protecting a motorcade in Mosul encountered a vehicle that appeared to be turning into the motorcade’s path. When the driver did not heed warnings to stop, a Blackwater gunner released “a burst of fire” that apparently disabled the vehicle. A civilian nearby was hit in the head by a bullet. Blackwater continued on without stopping but reported the incident as a probable killing. An ambulance was sent to the scene.
* November 2005, a Blackwater motorcade collided with 18 vehicles during a round trip journey. Written statements from team members were determined by Blackwater to be “invalid, inaccurate, and at best, dishonest reporting.” According to a Blackwater contractor who was on the mission, the tactical commander “openly admitted giving clear direction to the primary driver to conduct these acts of random negligence for no apparent reason.” Two employees were fired as a result.
* September 2006, a Blackwater team with four vehicles was driving on the wrong side of the road in a maneuver called “counter flowing.” The driver of an Iraqi car heading toward the Blackwater team lost control while trying to avoid them. The car swerved, skidded into a Blackwater vehicle, crashed into a telephone pole and caught fire. The Blackwater team collected people and sensitive equipment from its own disabled vehicle and left the scene without trying to assist the occupants of the Iraqi vehicle, which Blackwater described as “a ball of flames.”
* Christmas Eve 2006, a drunken Blackwater contractor killed a security guard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi. The State Department allowed the contractor to leave Iraq within 36 hours. The U.S. embassy’s charge d’affaires recommended that Blackwater apologize to the dead man’s family and pay them $250,000. But the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service said the sum was too high and could cause Iraqis to “try to get killed.” In the end, Blackwater agreed on a $15,000 payment.