Investigators Seek More Facts on Blackwater Shootout
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The investigations and questions continue over the September 16th Baghdad shootings involving the private security firm Blackwater. Even the number of dead is still in dispute.
We get an update from Baghdad from Alissa Rubin of the New York Times. Margaret Warner talked with her earlier this evening.
MARGARET WARNER: Alissa Rubin of the New York Times, thanks for being with us. Give us the latest from Baghdad on this Blackwater incident. Have you been able to confirm, for instance, what the A.P. is reporting today, that the Iraqi probe has ended and concluded with a recommendation that the Blackwater guards be tried in Iraqi courts?
ALISSA RUBIN, New York Times: Our information is that that report is not complete and has not yet been sent to Prime Minister Maliki. I’m sure that they will conclude that the guards are to be tried in Iraqi court. It’s certainly what everyone has said almost from the beginning when there have been these incidents with PSCs where Iraqi civilians have been killed.
MARGARET WARNER: And where do the other investigations stand?
ALISSA RUBIN: Well, it's quite a complicated picture, because there are a number of investigations going on simultaneously, and some are sort of overlapping. The State Department is conducting an investigation, and it's recently been announced that the FBI is certainly going to take -- is going to take over at least the portion having to do with the September 16th incident, in which a number of Iraqi civilians were killed. And the number we've been told by Iraqi officials is 17. Earlier estimates were somewhat lower.
And that's sort of the State and the FBI. And I think the idea of bringing the FBI in is that they have the forensic knowledge, and background, and experience. They know how to assemble evidence. They know how to preserve aspects of a crime scene if they need to. And then, if there is a legal proceeding, everything would be in place.
The New York Times' reconstruction
MARGARET WARNER: Now, meanwhile, you and your bureau chief did your own reconstruction of the events as they unfolded that day. Tell us about it. What was the precipitating incident?
ALISSA RUBIN: The first thing that happened was that there was a bomb some ways from the event. But it caused a decision, it seems, for the people who were being guarded -- we're still not sure who they were, whether they were diplomats or other U.S. officials -- caused a decision to have them leave where they were and attempt to go back to the Green Zone or to the embassy.
And at that point, a Blackwater team came through, presumably to clear the road, as they usually do, and they came into this square, which has been written about a lot, Nisour Square. It's sort of in the Yarmuk-Mansour area of Baghdad. It's a very busy square usually. And they positioned four vehicles in the square.
And at that point, there was incoming traffic from many directions. And Blackwater's goal was to stop the traffic so that, if that convoy came through, they would be able to go through and not be hurt and go through quickly. But it seems that, when they tried to stop the traffic, something happened that set off a first volley of bullets from Blackwater.
We don't know if they were shot at. That's what -- they've said that they came under fire and responded appropriately. And that is not the report we've heard from Iraqis, but there's no way to reconcile the Blackwater version with the Iraqi versions.
In any case, at that point, so they fired a few bullets, and one of them hit and seems to have basically smashed the face of a man who was driving his mother in a car a little ways back from the square. And the police rushed over to try to help the man. The mother grabbed her son and began to cry -- she's a doctor -- and another policeman tried to go -- these are Iraqi police -- tried to help her.
And at that point, it seems there was the fear that the police might be pushing this car forward, maybe it was a car bomb, and then Blackwater guards began to fire an enormous barrage of bullets. And people were terrified. People were trying to back up their cars. They were trying to turn their cars. There was a mini-bus which had several people on it.
As the bullets began to hit, they tried to get off the bus and take shelter behind a small cement bus stop. A young boy was killed as his mother was running away, it seems. Perhaps he was killed on the bus; it's not entirely clear. It was a scene of mayhem and terror, really, as people tried to run away, as best we can tell from all the witnesses we've spoke to.
Blackwater helicopter allegations
MARGARET WARNER: And meanwhile, there were Blackwater helicopters overhead. Just briefly, what role did they play?
ALISSA RUBIN: Well, they typically provide air cover for Blackwater as they maneuver around the city. But it seems, according to the Iraqi police investigators, they were firing, and there were holes in the tops of some of the cars, which they believe could only have come from the helicopters. But that's not something that we know from Blackwater yet, whether that report is right. There was certainly so many bullets that it's hard to tell where they came from at any one moment.
MARGARET WARNER: And what is Blackwater's status now, three weeks after the event? Is it still riding around Baghdad, providing protection for these State Department convoys?
ALISSA RUBIN: Yes. They're back out there providing protection. I think that the State Department for several days certainly reduced its travel significantly, but our understanding is they're now traveling again, and Blackwater is providing their security.
Media coverage in Iraq
MARGARET WARNER: And finally, Alissa, is this as big a story in Iraq as it is here in the United States, again, three weeks after the event, in terms of ongoing fallout and coverage?
ALISSA RUBIN: Well, I think in a way it has become quite a big story here. In some ways, at the very beginning, it was one more incident in which civilians have been shot. Obviously, we've had those incidents from the American military in several cases, and then a number from private security company incidents, as well, including Blackwater.
But I don't think that people ever felt that their government would listen. And this time, for a variety of reasons, it has come together that the Iraqi government is listening. There is an effort to do something about it, and that has made people more adamant. And a lot of people are quite informed about it, if you ask them.
They're reading the newspaper; they're keeping up with it; they want an investigation. They'll tell you they want justice. And it's kind of unclear exactly what that is, but it certainly means that people should be held to account and not just allowed to go off and vanish into the Green Zone after an event like this.
MARGARET WARNER: Alissa Rubin of the New York Times, thank you so much.
ALISSA RUBIN: Thank you.