When four Blackwater USA security guards were ambushed and massacred in Fallujah in 2004, graphic images showed the world exactly what happened: four men killed, their bodies burned and dragged through the streets. A chanting mob hung two mutilated corpses from a bridge.
Since then, Congress and the families of the murdered private security contractors have been demanding answers: Why did the lightly armed and undermanned team go through the heart of one of Iraq's most hostile cities? Why did the two teams sent out that day have four members, not the usual six?
Some answers can be found in memos from a second team for Blackwater operating around Fallujah on March 31, 2004.
Blackwater, based in North Carolina, sent two squads through Fallujah without maps, according to memos obtained by The News & Observer. Both of the six-man teams, named Bravo 2 and November 1, were sent out two men short, leaving them more vulnerable to ambush.
The Bravo 2 team members had protested that they were not ready for the mission and had not had time to prepare their weapons, but they were commanded to go, according to memos written by team members. The team disregarded directions to drive through Fallujah and instead drove around it and returned safely to Baghdad that evening.
The November 1 team went into Fallujah and was massacred.
The Bravo 2 team memos, in emotional, coarse and damning language, placed the blame squarely on Blackwater's Baghdad site manager, Tom Powell.
"Why did we all want to kill him?" team member Daniel Browne wrote the following day. "He had sent us on this [expletive] mission and over our protest. We weren't sighted in, we had no maps, we had not enough sleep, he was taking 2 of our guys cutting off [our] field of fire. As we went over these things we new the other team had the same complaints. They too had their people cut."
The memos surface amid heightened congressional scrutiny of Blackwater, a private security firm based in Moyock, and the private security industry, which grows ever more valuable to the Pentagon. Reports last week indicate that there are now more private contractors than troops operating in Iraq. Blackwater has received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts.
The aftermath of the killings shows one difference between contractors and the military. Had an officer sent four lightly armed soldiers into Fallujah, he would likely have faced public scrutiny in the military justice system. In this case, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has been trying to get documents such as these memos from Blackwater without success.
The families of the four men killed in the ambush -- Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, Scott Helvenston and Michael Teague -- sued Blackwater in Wake County Superior Court in an effort to find out what happened. Blackwater countersued the estates of the four men in federal court, successfully arguing for arbitration, in which the proceedings are closed to the public and the investigation of the incident can be much more limited.
Powell, the site manager, left Blackwater shortly after the Fallujah incident. He will not discuss the event while litigation is pending, said his attorney, Clifford Higby of Panama City, Fla. Efforts to reach the other Blackwater contractors for comment were unsuccessful.
Blackwater, owned by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince, did not respond to requests for comment starting in early June. A company lawyer, John W. Phillips of Seattle, sent a letter protesting the paper's possession of the memos and suggesting possible legal action if they were used in a news report.
Is there some sort of criminal action we the people can use against Blackwater for fomenting the Iraqi insurrection? Because this incident was the first.