The evidence just keeps mounting that mercenaries employed by Blackwater International randomly and wantonly slaughtered innocent civilians in the
Blackwater USA guards shot at Iraqi civilians as they tried to drive away from a Baghdad square on Sept. 16, according to a report compiled by the first
"It appeared to me they were fleeing the scene when they were engaged. It had every indication of an excessive shooting," said Lt. Col. Mike Tarsa, whose soldiers reached Nisoor Square 20 to 25 minutes after the gunfire subsided.
His soldiers' report -- based upon their observations at the scene, eyewitness interviews and discussions with Iraqi police -- concluded that there was "no enemy activity involved" and described the shootings as a "criminal event." Their conclusions mirrored those reached by the Iraqi government, which has said the Blackwater guards killed 17 people.
The soldiers' accounts contradict Blackwater's assertion that its guards were defending themselves after being fired upon by Iraqi police and gunmen.
Tarsa said they found no evidence to indicate that the Blackwater guards were provoked or entered into a confrontation. "I did not see anything that indicated they were fired upon," said Tarsa, 42, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. He also said it appeared that several drivers had made U-turns and were moving away from
And today the New York Times has more. Three Kurdish officials witnessed the episode from a high vantage point, quite literally above the fray:
The three witnesses, Kurds on a rooftop overlooking the scene, said they had observed no gunfire that could have provoked the shooting by Blackwater guards. American soldiers who arrived minutes later found shell casings from guns used normally by American contractors, as well as by the American military.
The Kurdish witnesses are important because they had the advantage of an unobstructed view and because, collectively, they observed the shooting at
Their statements, made in interviews with The New York Times, appeared to challenge a State Department account that a Blackwater vehicle had been disabled in the shooting and had to be towed away. Since those initial accounts, Blackwater and the State Department have consistently refused to comment on the substance of the case.
The Kurdish witnesses said that they saw no one firing at the guards at any time during the event, an observation corroborated by the forensic evidence of the shell casings. Two of the witnesses also said all the Blackwater vehicles involved in the shooting drove away under their own power.
The Kurds, who work for a political party whose building looks directly down on the square, said they had looked for any evidence that the American security guards were responding to an attack, but found none.
“I call it a massacre,” said Omar H. Waso, one of the witnesses and a senior official at the party, which is called the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. “It is illegal. They used the law of the jungle.”
American military personnel found the actions of the Blackwater mercenaries equally reprehensible.
Blackwater is still stubbornly maintaining that their mercs were fired on first, but the forensic evidence maintains that the people shilling for Blackwater are dirty-dog liars.
After the shootings, American soldiers found plenty of empty bullet casings 7.62 millimeters in diameter. Had the 7.62-millimeter casings been from an AK-47 rifle, a common insurgent and Iraqi police weapon, they would have been 39 millimeters long. Had they been from a PKC machine gun, another common Iraqi weapon, they would have been 54 millimeters long. The soldiers did not find any of those, the military official said.
Instead, the official said, the casings were 51 millimeters long, the length used by NATO weapons, including the M-240 machine gun, a standard automatic weapon used by the
The F.B.I. has been interviewing soldiers from the unit that responded to the scene, the Third Battalion of the 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, which is part of the Second Brigade of the First Cavalry Division, to collect information in its investigation of the shooting, the official said.
Not a single shell casing was found at the scene that would indicate that Blackwater mercenaries, nor the diplomats they were escorting came under hostile fire. An American military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter, added that soldiers had found clear evidence that the Blackwater guards were not been threatened and also opened fire on civilians who had tried to flee. “The cartridges and casings we found were all associated with coalition forces and contractors,” the official said. “The only brass we found where somebody fired weapons were ones from contractors.” (emphasis mine)
After that last burst of gunfire in the square, Mr. Waso said, all four of the Blackwater vehicles left. As far as he could see, they drove away under their own power, he said.
In the end, Mr. Waso said, he went down and asked Iraqi national guard soldiers to chase the Blackwater team.
“Leave them and try to follow that company before they get away,” Mr. Waso said he told a soldier. “They killed innocent people for no reason.”
When mercenaries engage in shooting sprees, wanton rampages and indiscriminate murder, it undermines the (ostensible) mission of the American military. "It was absolutely tragic," said Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division and the Army's top commander for