Justice Dept.: Blackwater Contractor Saw Killing Iraqis as 9/11 Payback

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 11:55 AM EDT

For sport, they rolled through the streets of Baghdad hurling frozen oranges and water bottles at civilians and nearby vehicles, trying to smash windshields and injure bystanders. Convoying through the city in armored vehicles, the contractors fired their weapons indiscriminately. One member of the Blackwater security team known as Raven 23 regularly bragged about his body count and viewed killing Iraqis as "payback for 9/11."

These allegations are contained in court records [PDF] filed on Monday by Justice Department lawyers prosecuting five Blackwater contractors for the September 2007 shooting frenzy in Baghdad's Nisour Square that killed 14 Iraqis and wounded 20 others. Anticipating that lawyers representing the contractors will argue that they were acting in self defense, the prosecution is seeking to introduce evidence that "several of the defendants had harbored a deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians which they demonstrated in words and deeds." The charges are similar to those that recently emerged in civil lawsuits against Blackwater, stemming from the Nisour Square episode.

According to the court filing:

In addition to verbal expressions of hatred towards Iraqi civilians, the defendants engaged in unprovoked and aggressive behavior toward unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. In so doing, the defendants routinely acted in disregard of the use of force policies that they were required to follow as a condition of their employment as Blackwater guards.

...

This evidence tends to establish that the defendants fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause.

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The prosecutors maintain that one of the defendants, Nicholas Slatten, believed that by killing Iraqis he was avenging the 9/11 attacks:

During the twelve months proceeding the events charged in the indictment, while assigned to the Raven 23 convoy operating at various locations in the Red Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, defendant Nicholas Slatten made statements that he wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as “payback for 9/11,” and he repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he had shot.

Prosecutors also say that in the year leading up to Nisour Square, Slatten "deliberately fired his weapon to draw out return fire and instigate gun battles."

These charges follow allegations last month, contained in the anonymous declarations of two former Blackwater employees (here and here) filed in connection with a series of civil law suits, that some of Blackwater's operators enagaged in the wanton murder of Iraqis for "sport or game" and "intentionally used excessive and unjustified deadly force, and in some instances used unauthorized weapons, to kill or seriously injure innocent Iraqi civilians." (Blackwater, which now goes by Xe, has called the allegations "unsubstantiated" and "offensive.")

In these declarations, one of the former Blackwater employees says the company's founder, Erik Prince,

intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many oft hese men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.

This anonmyous ex-employee also alleges:

Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince's executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to "lay Hajiis out on cardboard." Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince's employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as "ragheads" or "hajiis."

Allegations of serious misconduct by security contractors—including the indiscriminate murder of Iraqi and Afghan civilians—are nothing new. But with the recently disclosed Animal House antics of ArmorGroup's embassy guards in Kabul, the government's reliance on (and oversight of) contractors has once again become a flashpoint of controversy. Like ArmorGroup's embassy guards, the Blackwater contractors accused or murdering innocent Iraqis in Nisour Square—and engaging in a pattern of aggressive and violent behavior, according to the Justice Department—were under the oversight of the State Department when these abuses allegedly occurred. When the Commission on Wartime Contracting convenes a hearing to examine State's contractor management and oversight next week, expect the agency to face some intense scrutiny not just about how lewd conduct and cruel hazing went on under its nose but about its monitoring of Blackwater's scandal-prone operators as well.

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