No forensic match for ammo in Blackwater shooting

WASHINGTON — FBI scientists were unable to match bullets from a deadly 2007 Baghdad shooting to guns carried by Blackwater Worldwide security guards, according to laboratory reports that leave open the possibility that insurgents also fired in the crowded intersection.

Five Blackwater guards face manslaughter and weapons charges for their role in the shooting, which left 17 Iraqis dead and inflamed anti-U.S. sentiment abroad. Prosecutors say the contractors launched an unprovoked attack on civilians using machine guns and grenade launchers. The guards maintain their convoy was ambushed by insurgents.

The FBI lab reports, obtained by The Associated Press from someone not involved in the criminal case, allow for both possibilities.

Investigators recovered .30-caliber bullets from a survivor, a Blackwater truck and around Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. Scientists could not determine whether those bullets came from .30-caliber Blackwater machine guns.

The AK-47 rifles favored by many Iraqi insurgents also fire .30-caliber bullets.

Nobody disputes that Blackwater guards fired, but accounts vary on whether the convoy of armored trucks was attacked. Iraqi witnesses and some members of the Blackwater convoy told authorities they saw no insurgent gunfire. Radio logs show Blackwater guards repeatedly reporting incoming fire during a hectic eight minutes in which one truck was disabled.

The government’s case does not hinge on whether Blackwater was fired on, since prosecutors say the guards violated their rules of engagement even if they did take fire. But any evidence that Blackwater was attacked would help the guards argue they fired in self-defense.

The inconclusive lab reports do little to sort out the discrepancies. The documents do not prove the government’s argument that Blackwater was unprovoked. Nor do they prove that Blackwater was attacked.

Instead, the reports reveal the difficulty FBI agents faced in an investigation that began two weeks after the shooting.

In the U.S., investigators would analyze bullets from the dead bodies. But Muslims typically bury their dead within 24 hours, so when the FBI arrived, such analysis was impossible. Iraqi autopsy reports, if they are done, are not usually as thorough as those in the United States. The FBI lab reports give no indication that investigators recovered any bullets from dead bodies.

Neither the Justice Department nor attorneys for the Blackwater guards would discuss the lab reports.

Further complicating things, investigators found Yugoslavian and Chinese cartridge cases in the square. Neither U.S. troops nor Blackwater use such ammunition. But shootings are not uncommon in Nisoor Square and those shells could have been left behind before or after the Blackwater shooting.

“Even if they didn’t find anything except Blackwater cartridge casings, because of how insecure the scene is out there, people could have come in and picked up anything they wanted,” said Michael Haag, a forensic scientist and instructor who reviewed the lab reports for the AP.

FBI scientists also tried to match the bullets to Blackwater ammunition by analyzing and comparing metal compositions. Scientists determined the bullets and bullet fragments recovered from the scene probably came from “several different sources.”

But that, too, is an inconclusive finding, Haag said. Even ammunition pulled from the same box can have different metal compositions. So, the lab’s finding does not prove whether Blackwater was alone in firing, he said.

Gerald Styers, former president of the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners, said the FBI reports show that while TV scientists solve shootings in an hour, real science is rarely so easy.

“TV tells a different story than real life,” he said. “It’s very difficult to compare badly damaged materials.”

The Blackwater guards are scheduled to go on trial early next year and the results will be closely watched in Baghdad, where Iraqi authorities wanted to prosecute the case.

The Obama administration says it will not renew Blackwater’s security contract next month. The Moyock, N.C.-based company recently changed its name to Xe and announced a management overhaul.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Everett
Man shot at Everett apartment

The man in his 30s was shot Sunday night. No arrests had been made.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist identified in fatal crash near Lake Stevens

Anthony Palko, 33, died Monday night after colliding with a passenger car. The juveniles in the car were taken to the hospital.

Marysville
Police: Marysville man shot sword-wielding roommate in self-defense

The roommates were arguing over eBay sales, according to police. Then one of them allegedly brandished a two-foot sword.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Everett boy, 12, identified as Davies Beach drowning victim

Malachi Bell was one of three swimmers in distress Sunday in Lake Stevens. He did not survive.

Everett
Port of Everett hosting annual open house after pandemic hiatus

Also, Rustic Cork Wine Bar plans to open a second shop at Fisherman’s Harbor — the latest addition to the port’s “wine walk.”

The “Village of Hope,” a tiny home community including 17 shelters, is set to open on Mission Hill Road in Tulalip in September. (Tulalip Tribes)
Tulalip Tribes to open tiny home village with 17 shelters

It’s called the Village of Hope. Monthly culture nights will feature classes in Lushootseed and “Tulalip cooking.”

Everett Code Enforcement issued a violation citation to the owner of the Grand Apartments building at 2331 Rockefeller Ave., after allegedly finding exposed electrical wiring and evidence of unpermitted electrical and plumbing work. (City of Everett)
Grand Apartments, which saw outcry from tenants, faces code violations

The Everett complex has had its share of issues. Now the city is threatening fines if something isn’t done.

"Shoes are like jeans," says Dominic Ahn, 53, who took over ownership from his parents, who started the store 40 years ago. Photographed in Edmonds, Washington on June 30, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
EEEEEE! Edmonds shoe shop sells wide shoes only

The store has over 600 styles of work and play shoes for men and women with feet from D to 8E widths.

Tomato is charred by Joel Childs Thursday afternoon at The Chef Behind The Curtain in Snohomish, Washington on June 30, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
This tiny Snohomish restaurant is a best-kept secret among locals

You don’t have to travel to Seattle — or drain your savings — for a fine dining experience.

Most Read