Radio logs: Blackwater took incoming fire
By Matt Apuzzo and Lara Jakes - The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday Dec 18, 2008 22:07:51 EST

WASHINGTON — Radio logs from a deadly 2007 shooting in Baghdad contradict U.S. government claims that Blackwater Worldwide security guards were unprovoked when they killed 14 Iraqi civilians.

Five guards face manslaughter and weapons charges for their roles in the shootings. A sixth has pleaded guilty. Prosecutors said the men unleashed a gruesome attack on unarmed Iraqis, including women, children and people trying to escape.

But Blackwater communication logs from the Sept. 16, 2007, shooting suggest otherwise. The logs, turned over to prosecutors, describe a hectic eight minutes in which the guards repeatedly reported incoming gunfire from insurgents and Iraqi police. Copies of the documents were obtained by the Associated Press.

Because Blackwater guards were authorized to fire in self-defense, any evidence their convoy was attacked will make it harder for the Justice Department to prove they acted unlawfully.

The logs, which document radio traffic heard by the company’s dispatch center inside the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, show that the Blackwater convoy known as Raven 23 reported taking small-arms fire from insurgents within one minute of shutting down traffic in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square.

“Mult insuirg SAF @ R23,” the log states at 12:12 p.m.

One minute later, the Raven 23 convoy reported taking fire from Iraqi police: “R23 rpts IPs shooting @ R23.”

It’s unclear why Iraqi police would fire on the Blackwater convoy. Prosecutors could argue the police fired because they thought Blackwater was attacking civilians. It’s also common for insurgents to dress as Iraqi police or military officials.

Raven 23 was told to leave the square and return to the Green Zone at 12:14, according to the logs. But one minute later, the convoy reported that one of its heavily armored vehicles was disabled. Guards jumped out of another truck and set up a tow rig, still under fire, according to the logs.

“R23 in trfc still under sporadic SAF,” the log shows at 12:20 p.m., as the convoy made its way back to the Green Zone.

“Unless these guys are lying to their command watch in real time, making up stuff, that’s real-time reporting that they were taking small-arms fire,” said defense attorney Thomas Connolly, who represents Nick Slatten, a former Army sergeant and indicted Blackwater guard.

Connolly provided the logs to the AP because he said prosecutors knew there was evidence of a firefight, yet unfairly described it as a massacre.

“The Justice Department began their presentation to the American people with a lie,” Connolly said.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined to discuss the contents of the logs. “We cannot comment on evidence related to a pending case, but we are fully prepared to address in court arguments made by the defense concerning the documents you reference,” he said.

Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., confirmed the authenticity of the logs but declined further comment.

The logs add a new uncertainty to an already murky case. Iraqi witnesses say Blackwater fired the only shots. And some Raven 23 members, including at least one who set up the tow rig, told authorities they saw no gunfire, according to people close to the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Others in the convoy told authorities they did see enemy gunfire. And Blackwater turned over to prosecutors pictures of vehicles pocked with bullet holes, which the company says proves the guards were shot at. The photos were not time-stamped, however, and the trucks were repainted and repaired by the time FBI agents began investigating.

The Iraqi government has labeled the guards “criminals” and is closely watching the Blackwater case. The shooting strained diplomacy between Washington and Baghdad and fueled anti-American insurgency in Iraq.

U.S. prosecutors were aggressive in their charges against the guards. They used an anti-machine gun law to attach 30-year mandatory prison sentences to the charges. And though they can’t say for sure exactly which guards shot which victims, all five guards are charged with 14 counts of manslaughter.

A sixth Blackwater guard struck a deal with prosecutors, turned on his former colleagues, and pleaded guilty to killing one Iraqi and wounding another.

“Those who engaged in unprovoked and illegal attacks on civilians, whether during times of conflict or times of peace, will be held accountable,” national security prosecutor Patrick Rowan told reporters when announcing the indictments.

Mark Hulkower, an attorney representing Army veteran and former Blackwater guard Paul Slough, said the logs undermine that claim.

“It’s absolutely bizarre that the Department of Justice thinks it can call balls and strikes for every shot fired in a firefight,” Hulkower said. “I think a jury would be reluctant to do that.”

In all, 17 Iraqis were killed in the assault. Rowan said evidence in the case could only prove the guards shot 14, although he left open the possibility of future charges. Blackwater Worldwide and its corporate officers were not charged.