A Defense Department review had concluded that none of the killings were justified, but a State Department probe conducted after the Blackwater personnel apparently were offered immunity had found that the shootings in Baghdad’s Nisour Square were justified.
The FBI's findings are under review by the Justice Department and could be one of the first major issues to be decided by Michael Mukasey, the new attorney general.But there has been outrage in Congress – as well as in Iraq – over the trigger-happy antics of Blackwater and some other private security contractors, as well as the Bush administration's repeated failure to hold them accountable for their actions.
U.S. law is murky and there may not be sufficient grounds under it to prosecute the Blackwater personnel.
Representative David E. Price, a North Carolina Democrat who has sponsored legislation to extend American criminal law to contractors working overseas, said the Justice Department must hold someone accountable for the shootings.
"Just because there are deficiencies in the law, and there certainly are," he said, "that can't serve as an excuse for criminal actions like this to be unpunished. I hope the new attorney general makes this case a top priority. He needs to announce to the American people and the world that we uphold the rule of law and we intend to pursue this."
The FBI investigators have concluded that as many as five of the company's guards opened fire during the September 16 incident, at least some with automatic weapons. They have focused on one guard, identified as "turret gunner No. 3," who fired a large number of rounds and was responsible for several fatalities.Among the 17 killings, three may have been justified under rules that allow lethal force to be used in response to an imminent threat, the F.B.I. agents concluded.
Rice and the officials she assigned to deal with the incident have been out of their depth from the outset and have offered conflicting explanations about State's responsibilities in overseeing security contracting, which has grown from $1 billion four years ago to $4 billion today.Department accounting procedures have failed to keep pace and a recent audit identified serious lapses in oversight of a major police-training contract held by DynCorp International, after Blackwater the second-largest security contractor in Iraq.
Richard Griffin, State's security chief, resigned late last month amid allegations that there were severe lapses in his staff’s oversight of the contractors.