WASHINGTON A Blackwater USA employee under investigation in the killing last December of an Iraqi bodyguard in an off-duty confrontation was so drunk after fleeing the shooting that another group of guards took away the loaded pistol he was fumbling with, a report Monday to a House committee said.
The guards, employees of Triple Canopy, another private military contractor, returned the weapon to the Blackwater employee, who smelled of alcohol, and escorted him away from their guard post in the fortified Green Zone, the report said. Shortly afterward, the police detained the man, a 26-year-old firearms technician whom the report did not name, at the Blackwater camp inside the Green Zone but determined he was too intoxicated to be interviewed.
Within 36 hours, the report said, Blackwater fired the man for possessing a firearm while drunk and arranged with the State Department to fly him back to the United States, angering Iraqi officials who said the Christmas Eve shooting was murder.
The acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad suggested that Blackwater claim that the shooting was accidental, apologize for it and pay the dead Iraqi man's family $250,000, lest the Iraqi government bar Blackwater from working there, the report said. Blackwater eventually paid the family $15,000, according to the report, after an embassy diplomatic security official complained that the "crazy sums" proposed by the ambassador could encourage Iraqis to try to "get killed by our guys to financially guarantee their family's future.
The report did not identify the acting ambassador, but a State Department spokesman, Karl Duckworth, said it was Margaret Scobey.
The shooting is under investigation by the Justice Department, but it remains unclear what laws might be applied in the case, because it occurred overseas.
According to the report, which was based largely on internal Blackwater e-mail messages and State Department documents and compiled by the Democratic staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the episode began between 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Dec. 24 when the off-duty Blackwater employee, who witnesses said had been drinking heavily, passed through a gate near Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki's compound in the Green Zone.
When confronted by bodyguards to Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi of Iraq, the Blackwater employee fired his Glock 9 mm pistol, hitting one of the guards, Raheem Khalif, three times. Khalif, 32, later died at a U.S. military hospital.
The Blackwater employee fled to the Triple Canopy guard post, where he told the guards that he had been in a gunfight with Iraqis who were chasing him and shooting at him. But the guards had not heard any shots.
The next day, the Blackwater employee told Army investigators that he had fired in self-defense after the Iraqi bodyguard shot at him. On Dec. 26, Blackwater flew the man out of Iraq to Jordan, and then to the United States.
Senior U.S. Embassy officials immediately determined that Blackwater should send the dead Iraqi man's family a letter of condolence and a cash payment.
In an e-mail message, Scobey asked if the embassy's regional security officer would be following up "to do all possible to assure that a sizable compensation is forthcoming"
"If we are to avoid this whole thing becoming even worse, I think a prompt pledge and apology even if they want to claim it was accidental would be the best way to assure the Iraqis don't take steps, such as telling Blackwater that they are no longer able to work in Iraq," Scobey wrote.
The embassy officials disagreed over the size of the payment until the Diplomatic Security Service official prevailed.
"As you can imagine, this has serious implications," the embassy security official said in an internal e-mail message. "This was an unfortunate event but we feel that it doesn't reflect on the overall Blackwater performance. They do an exceptional job under very challenging circumstances. We would like to help them resolve this so we can continue with our protective mission."