Wikileaks Iraq War Logs Reveal Private Military Contractors Killing With Impunity
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Shortly after 10am on 14 May 2005, a convoy of private security guards from Blackwater riding down "Route Irish" – the Baghdad airport road – shot up a civilian Iraqi vehicle. While they were at it, the Blackwater men fired shots over the heads of a group of soldiers from the 69th Regiment of the US Army before they sped away heading west in their white armoured truck. When the dust cleared, the Iraqi driver was dead and his wife and daughter were injured.
The incident is one of several dozen "escalation of force" incidents involving private security companies in Iraq – which is military parlance for an unwarranted attack, almost all of which have never been previously reported. Blackwater, the company from Moyock, North Carolina, is responsible for about half of the attacks, closely followed by Erinys, a British private security company registered in the Virgin Islands, which seems to have an unusually high number of vehicle crashes.
On my four visits to Iraq in the last seven years, I learned quickly to steer clear of the fast-moving vehicles belonging to these private security companies. The men – sporting identical reflective wrap-around sunglasses, bullet-proof jackets – would aim their high-powered assault rifles and shout " Imshi" ("Move") at any vehicle that came within a 50m perimeter. Sometimes, they would throw plastic water bottles to shock pedestrians into staying away.
Easily the best-known private security company is Blackwater (recently renamed Xe), which rocketed to fame three years ago when four company security guards, escorting a convoy of US state department vehicles en route to a meeting in western Baghdad, opened fire in Nisour Square in Baghdad killing 17 Iraqi civilians. Yet, a query of the Iraq war logs for "Blackwater" or "Nisour Square" turns up nothing, at first.
In this failure to identify what is probably the most notorious carnage of Iraqi civilians, the strengths and weakness of the military reporting process (and, by association, Wikileaks) become startlingly clear. Had the media not reported this incident, there would be no way to identify the company or the location in which this massacre took place. Initially, I wondered: was it possible that the soldier who recorded the incident made a mistake or that the record was erased?
Eventually, I tracked down the incident by trying a few other methods. It is easy to see why I missed the record: there is no mention of the company, or the location, and even the death toll is incorrectly recorded as nine, suggesting that the Pentagon casualty record is incomplete.
Human rights investigators know this problem only too well. Media reports are often incomplete and government reports are sometimes deliberately vague. They are just a starting point from which painstaking research is needed to build up a true picture of what has happened.
Quite possibly, there were many more incidents in which civilians were injured, or even killed, which were never reported. Some of the reports may have been altered before they were entered into the military system. But given the other records that I found, at the very least, Wikileaks has revealed that Blackwater and other private security companies are guilty of many more injuries and killings than the media have previously reported.
Today, there as many as 40,000 armed private security contractors working in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to data collected by Commission on Wartime Contracting staff during the first quarter of 2010.