On February 7, 2007, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing to on performance and accountability of private military contractors in Iraq. The hearing included the examination of one prominent case study: a pivotal event of the Iraq War in which four Blackwater USA security contractors were ambushed and killed in Fallujah on March 31, 2004, while escorting a convoy. The Committee has since pursued a thorough investigation, and has just released its findings based on eye-witness accounts, unclassified investigative reports, and other evidence — much of it obtained and discovered despite fierce resistance from Blackwater. The findings include:
At the time of the Fallujah incident, Blackwater was taking over operations from a British security company, Control Risks Group. The project manager for the British company states that Blackwater “did not use the opportunity to learn from the experience gained by CRG on this operation, … leading to inadequate preparation for taking on this task.” The company's incident report states that Blackwater was informed that Control Risks Group twice rejected the mission because of unacceptable security risks, reporting: “Blackwater were informed that we had turned this task down and the reasons why were given.”
Prior to the Blackwater team's departure, two of the six members of the team were cut from the mission, depriving both security vehicles of a rear gunner. These personnel were removed from the mission to perform administrative duties at the Blackwater operations center.
Blackwater had a contract dispute with a Kuwaiti company, Regency Hotel & Hospitality, over the acquisition of armored vehicles for the Blackwater team. Blackwater officials instructed its employees to “string these guys along and run this … thing into the ground” because “if we stalled long enough they (Regency) would have no choice but to buy us armored cars, or they would default on the contract,” in which case the contractor who hired Regency “might go directly to Blackwater for security.” According to a Blackwater employee, Blackwater's contract “paid for armor vehicles,” but “management in North Carolina made the decision to go with soft skin due to the cost.”
One day before the Fallujah attack, Blackwater's operations manager in Baghdad sent an urgent e-mail to Blackwater headquarters in North Carolina with the subject line “Ground Truth.” The e-mail stated: “I need new vehicles. I need new COMs, I need ammo, I need Glocks and M4s. … I've requested hard cars from the beginning. … Ground truth is appalling.”
Because they were without maps and the mission had not been sufficiently planned, the Blackwater personnel arrived at the wrong military base the day before the attack, where they were forced to spend the night. A witness at the military base assessed that “the mission that they were on was hurriedly put together and that they were not prepared.”
From the February 7th hearing, Kathryn Helvenston-Wettengel, mother of one of the employees, gave an opening statement (pdf) delivered on behalf of the families of all four Blackwater employees killed in the infamous Fallujah incident on March 31, 2004:
“Having lost those close to our hearts, and then having experienced the callous indifference of Blackwater, we sincerely hope that Congress will take action by creating accountability for private contractors and not continue to allow them to make millions of dollars at the cost of American lives.”