A U.S. State Department official wrote of Blackwater’s lack of oversight and its “environment full of liability and negligence” well before Blackwater guards killed 17 civilians and injured 20 others in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in September 2007, reports the New York Times.
Weeks prior to the shooting, the State Department had begun an investigation into the military contractor’s operations in Iraq — but the probe was aborted after Blackwater’s top manager threatened that “he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports obtained and published by the Times.
As tensions over the investigation worsened in August 2007, American embassy officials sided with Blackwater — and officials told State Department investigators to pull out of the probe because it disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor, according to the report.
Alarmed, Jean C. Richter, the investigator, wrote a scathing memo to State Department officials on Aug. 31, 2007. “The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” he wrote of Blackwater.
He added that the firm had a “hands off” management style, saw itself as “above the law” and that “they actually believe they ‘ran the place.’”
The State Department declined to comment to the Times on the abandoned investigation. Blackwater’s former chief executive, Erik Prince, said he was never told about the matter.
The Nisour Square shooting had an immediate impact on America’s occupation in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for the termination of Blackwater’s contract. He also refused a treaty that would have allowed American troops to remain in the country after 2011.
There are currently four Blackwater guards on trial in Washington for their role in the shooting.