L-R: The car of one of the victims; the injured arm of another of the victims; Ahmed Haythem and his mother, Mohasin, who were both killed in the shooting spree.
Salon (http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/12/14/blackwater/index.html) has more details on the massacre in Baghdad of civilians by employees of Blackwater USA, the Christianist owned and led mercenary firm located in nearby Moyock, North Carolina. The details are ghastly and show the utter disregard for the lives of Iraqi civilians, viewed no doubt, as less than humans by the Blackwater mercenaries due to their Muslim faith (note the paltry amount offered to families of the victims by the U. S. State Department). It certainly appears that Erik Prince (allegedly devout Christian) lied when he testified before Congress. Is it little wonder why the USA is so hated by Muslims around the world? Here are some highlights:
For Khalaf, a 38-year-old Iraqi, Sept. 16 started like many other sunny summer workdays. He donned his police uniform -- a white shirt, navy trousers and hat -- and headed to Baghdad's busy Nissour Square. By 7 a.m. he was out in the street, directing the flow of traffic coming from the multi-laned Yarmouk access road into the square. When he spotted four large all-terrain vehicles with guns mounted on top, he did what he always did. He stopped traffic and cleared the area for what he knew, from the tell-tale sign of the two accompanying helicopters, to be a security firm's convoy.
At first, this seemed completely normal for the totally abnormal world of Baghdad in September 2007. "Convoys are common," explained Khalaf. But this convoy made an unexpected U-turn, drove the wrong way around the one-way square, stopped in the middle of it and started shooting. Fifteen minutes later, 17 Iraqi civilians were dead, dozens more wounded, and a white sedan that had been engulfed in flames contained two bodies charred beyond recognition. "It was a horror movie," said Khalaf, describing the aftermath of the now notorious Blackwater shootings.
I interviewed Khalaf on Nov. 30, in a small conference room inside a hotel in Istanbul, Turkey. In one of the most in-depth collection of testimonials to date regarding Blackwater, Khalaf was among five witnesses and victims flown from Baghdad to meet with Susan Burke, William O'Neil and their team of lawyers and investigators. The team is suing Blackwater on behalf of the victims of the Sept. 16 shooting. Sadly, this lawsuit may be the only way that the victims and their families receive remotely adequate compensation for their losses.
Khalaf recounted the events of that day to a hushed room of lawyers with laptops. He watched, he said, as the Blackwater convoy made the U-turn toward the street where he stood directing traffic. As the convoy stopped, Khalaf watched as a large man with a mustache standing atop the third car fired several shots in the air. Khalaf turned back toward the Yarmouk road to see what might have spurred the shooting and heard a woman yell, "My son! My son!" He ran three cars back to a white sedan to find a woman holding a young man slumped over and covered with blood. The man was Ahmed, a 20-year-old medical student at the top of his class, and the woman his mother, Mohasin, a successful dermatologist and mother of three. He described how he crouched by the car, his right arm reaching inside, his head out and left arm up in the air, signaling to the convoy, his gun secure in its holster. Then the mother was shot dead before his eyes.
The shooting then turned heavier, Khalaf said, his eyes red-brimmed and serious. He hid behind the police traffic booth, but shots came directly at him, hitting the adjacent traffic light and booth's door, and he fled back across Yarmouk road to safety behind a hill. Along with a few hundred others, he stayed there as the chaos unfolded, watching as the helicopters circling above the street started shooting at those below. Fifteen minutes later, the four-car convoy continued around the square and drove away. Amid the wreckage, colorful clouds billowed into the air from the convoy's parting gift -- multicolored smoke bombs.
In remarks prepared for delivery before a congressional hearing in October, Blackwater chairman Erik Prince claimed company guards "returned fire at threatening targets," including "men with AK-47s firing on the convoy" and "approaching vehicles that appeared to be suicide car bombers." Prince's prepared testimony also asserted that one of the vehicles had been disabled by the "enemy fire" and had to be towed.
But the accounts of Khalaf and others contradict each of Prince's assertions. Khalaf, who was there before the shooting began, said he never saw anyone fire on or approach the convoy. He watched as all four cars drove away as the 15-minute shooting spree ended, and huddled in fear as the helicopters began firing. He thought the helicopters would start spraying those who were hiding behind the hill for safety from the street-level threat. Khalaf's observations are backed up by official accounts, including leaked FBI findings.
Haythem, the composed, articulate and powerfully calm father and husband of Ahmed and Mohasin, who died in the white car, expected them to pick him up at the health center where he worked that afternoon. He waited and waited, and eventually went home without them. "I tried to be patient," he said. "I kept calling, but thought there must be some sort of cellphone interruption."
Finally, around 5 p.m., he phoned his brother who worked at the hospital closest to Nissour Square. His brother went to the emergency room, then to the morgue. He learned that all of the bodies there were identified -- except for two that were completely burned with body parts missing. His brother then headed to the square, where he called Haythem to tell him he had found a charred white car with a license plate number written in the sand. The numerals and letters matched the family's plate. Haythem identified his son from what was left of his shoes. His forehead and brains were missing and his skin completely burned. He identified his wife of 20 years by a dental bridge.
These are not isolated events. In October, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released its analysis of Blackwater's own internal reporting since 2005, which found 195 shooting incidents in the last two years, including 160 in which Blackwater employees fired the first shot. The Burke O'Neil lawsuit may be the only way that victims receive compensation for their loss. The State Department has offered family members $10,000 for those killed in the Sept. 16 shootings -- an amount most consider insultingly low and have refused. In less high-profile cases involving U.S. contractors, no one has offered anything.