Thursday, October 25, 2007

Under Siege, Blackwater Takes On Air of Bunker

BAGHDAD, Oct. 24 — The Blackwater USA compound here is a fortress within a fortress. Surrounded by a 25-foot-high wall of concrete topped by a chain-link fence and razor wire, the compound sits deep inside the heavily defended Green Zone, its two points of entry guarded by Colombian Army veterans carrying shotguns and automatic rifles.

In the mazelike interior, Blackwater employees live in trailers stacked one on top of the other in surroundings that one employee likens to a “minimum-security prison.”

Since Sept. 16, when Blackwater guards opened fire in a crowded Baghdad square, the compound has begun to feel more like a prison, too. On that day, employees of Blackwater, a private security firm hired to protect American diplomats, responded to what they called a threat and killed as many as 17 people and wounded 24.

Richard J. Griffin, the State Department official who oversaw Blackwater USA and other private security contractors in Iraq, resigned Wednesday.

For weeks, not a word has emerged publicly from the compound, as the F.B.I., the American military and the Iraqi government investigate the Sept. 16 and earlier Blackwater shootings in Iraq.

But in recent days, that secretive Blackwater world has begun to fray under so much scrutiny, said four current and two former Blackwater employees. They described a grating sense among many of Blackwater guards, especially those with years of experience, that the killings on Sept. 16 were unjustified.

“Some guys are thinking that it was not a good shoot, that it was not warranted,” said one Blackwater contractor, using military jargon for an episode that results in a wrongful death. “I don’t think there was criminal intent involved. I just think it was the application of the use of deadly force gone horribly wrong.”

He added, “To mitigate one threat, 17 people had to die?”

Blackwater employees are aware of the conclusions of Iraqi investigators: that Blackwater never received fire and that any threat was illusory. Like the company in its official statements, the guards appear to believe that three armored Blackwater vehicles received several rounds of gunfire somewhere in the city that day, and that this might help explain why the guards fired into Nisour Square.........

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