Radio logs suggest Blackwater guards took enemy gunfire

Five face charges in 14 killings last year in Iraq

By Matt Apuzzo and Lara Jakes
Associated Press / December 19, 2008
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WASHINGTON - Radio logs from a deadly 2007 shooting in Baghdad contradict US government claims that Blackwater Worldwide security guards were unprovoked when they killed 14 Iraqi civilians.

Five guards face manslaughter and weapons charges for their roles in the shootings. A sixth has pleaded guilty. Prosecutors said the men unleashed a gruesome attack on unarmed Iraqis, including women, children, and people trying to escape.

But Blackwater communication logs from the Sept. 16, 2007 shooting suggest otherwise. The logs, turned over to prosecutors, describe a hectic eight minutes in which the guards repeatedly reported incoming gunfire from insurgents and Iraqi police.

Because Blackwater guards were authorized to fire in self-defense, evidence that their convoy was attacked will make it harder for the Justice Department to prove they acted unlawfully.

The logs, which document radio traffic heard by the company's dispatch center inside the Green Zone, show that the Blackwater convoy known as Raven 23 reported taking small arms fire from insurgents within one minute of shutting down traffic in Baghdad's Nisoor Square.

"Mult insuirg SAF @ R23," the log states at 12:12 p.m. One minute later, the convoy reported taking fire from Iraqi police: "R23 rpts IPs shooting @ R23."

It is unclear why Iraqi police would fire on the Blackwater convoy. Prosecutors could contend the police fired because they believed Blackwater was attacking civilians. It is also common for insurgents to dress as Iraqi police or military officials.

Raven 23 was told to leave the square and return to the Green Zone at 12:14, according to the logs. But one minute later, the convoy reported that one of its heavily armored vehicles was disabled. Guards jumped out of another truck and set up a tow rig, while still under fire, according to the logs. "R23 in trfc still under sporadic SAF," the log shows at 12:20 p.m., as the convoy made its way back to the Green Zone.

"Unless these guys are lying to their command watch in real time, making up stuff, that's real-time reporting that they were taking small arms fire," said defense lawyer Thomas Connolly, who represents Nick Slatten, a former Army sergeant.

Connolly provided the logs because he said prosecutors knew there was evidence of a firefight, but unfairly described it as a massacre. "The Justice Department began their presentation to the American people with a lie," Connolly said.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined to discuss the contents of the logs.

Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., confirmed the authenticity of the logs but declined further comment.

The logs add a new uncertainty to an already murky case. Iraqi witnesses say Blackwater guards fired the only shots. And some Raven 23 members told authorities they saw no gunfire.

Others in the convoy told authorities they did see enemy gunfire. And Blackwater turned over to prosecutors pictures of vehicles pocked with bullet holes, which the company says proves the guards were shot at. The photos were not time-stamped, however, and the trucks were repainted and repaired by the time FBI agents began investigating.

In all, 17 Iraqis were killed in the assault. Rowan said evidence in the case could only prove the guards shot 14.

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