Former executives at controversial US security contractor Blackwater Worldwide authorised payment of about one million dollars to Iraqi officials in exchange for their support and silence over the fatal shootings of 17 civilians by its employees, according to today’s edition of the New York Times .
In September 2007, Blackwater workers fatally shot at least 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, an incident that provoked protests in Iraq and prompted the Iraqi government to deny Blackwater a licence.
Four former executives said in interviews that Blackwater approved the payments in December 2007 but they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of potential recipients, the Times reported.
Blackwater’s strategy, which would have been illegal under U.S. law, created a deep rift inside the company, the sources told the newspaper. A spokesman for the company, now known as Xe Services, was not immediately available to comment on the report.
Two of the former executives told the Times they took part in talks about the payments. The two others said they were told by several Blackwater officials about the discussions.
The four officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they left the company because they were troubled by a pattern of questionable conduct by Blackwater, the paper reported.
The Times said Stacy DeLuke, a company spokeswoman, dismissed the allegations as “baseless” and said the company would not comment about former employees.
One Blackwater guard has pleaded guilty in US court to voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter over the 2007 shootings, while five others are awaiting trial next year on manslaughter and other charges. The company denies wrongdoing.
Blackwater was a target of Iraqi anger even before the 2007 shootings because of its size, high profile and aggressive posture on the streets.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki branded the incident a “massacre” and complained when the US State Department subsequently renewed Blackwater’s contract.
The US government said in September it had asked the company to continue providing security services to US diplomats in Iraq because the firm hired to replace it was not ready to take over.
Xe Services, the former Blackwater, had been notified in January that its State Department contract in Iraq would not be renewed.
Privately-owned Blackwater earned more than $600 million in revenues last year – about a third of that from its State Department contract to protect diplomats in war zones.