THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

APNewsBreak: Blackwater founder questions FBI work

By Mike Baker
Associated Press / April 1, 2011

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RALEIGH, N.C.—The founder of the security firm once known as Blackwater questioned in a sworn deposition how federal authorities handled their investigation of an infamous Baghdad shooting that left 17 Iraqis dead, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

Erik Prince said during the seven-hour testimony that he didn't believe the FBI fully investigated the sources of all the used bullets in Nisoor Square, arguing that it would have been helpful for the defense to have a complete ballistics report.

"It seems the ballistics analysis was done to prove the guilt of the Americans, not to just try to identify what happened there," Prince said. His comments about the case and throughout the deposition underscore how tensions between the government and one of its go-to contractors have lingered for years.

Security personnel of North Carolina-based Blackwater were guarding U.S. diplomats when the guards opened fire in crowded Nisoor Square on Sept. 16, 2007. Seventeen people were killed, including women and children, in a shooting that inflamed anti-American sentiment in Iraq.

The episode drew such outrage that Iraqi officials moved to ban the company from operating there. Five of the security guards involved in the shooting were indicted for manslaughter, but a U.S. judge has dismissed the case.

Blackwater now operates under new management, new ownership and a new name -- Xe. Prince no longer has a role in the company's operations and moved last year to the United Arab Emirates. He said in the deposition, which took place last year in Abu Dhabi, that he still visits the United States and considers himself to be subject to U.S. laws.

Prince was deposed as part of a lawsuit alleging that his company had a pattern of using excessive force and improperly billed the government. He said he was confident there was no billing fraud and defended the actions of his Nisoor Square contractors by noting the dangers and uncertainty of operating in a warzone.

"I wasn't there. I'm not going to second-guess them," he said.

After questioning the FBI handling of the case, Prince later acknowledged that it was a difficult to investigate under such circumstances and nothing like television shows where crime scenes stay secure.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment Friday.

Lab reports showed the challenge of an FBI investigation that began two weeks after the shooting. FBI scientists were unable to match bullets from the square to guns carried by the Blackwater guards, even though nobody disputes that the men fired shots, and investigators found foreign cartridge cases not used by U.S. or Blackwater personnel. Shootings in the square were not uncommon, making it unclear whether shells were from the shooting in question or from other incidents.

Radio logs from that day show Blackwater guards repeatedly reporting incoming fire, but Iraqi witnesses and some members of the Blackwater convoy told authorities they saw no insurgent gunfire.

In the deposition, released by the lawyer who is suing Prince and the company, the Blackwater founder placed much of the responsibility of warzone activity on the government. He said contractors the company provided were screened and approved to the State Department's standards. He said State Department officials set and enforced the rules of engagement.

Prince also said Blackwater asked as far back as 2005 to equip their vehicles with cameras. He said the State Department didn't want the video, even though the government immediately began considering doing that after the Nisoor Square shooting.

"The request continually fell on deaf ears," Prince said.

Prince said he stepped aside from the company because of the intense scrutiny it was facing from the media and various regulators. Federal prosecutors have indicted several of Prince's former management team on weapons charges. They are awaiting trial.

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