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FBI holds Blackwater responsible: NYT
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09:31, November 15, 2007

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US federal agents have found that the killings of at least 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians shot by Blackwater Worldwide security personnel in a September confrontation were unjustified and violated rules for the use of deadly force, The New York Times reported.

Citing civilian and military officials briefed on the case, the Times reported on its web site on Tuesday night that the Justice Department was already reviewing the findings even though the FBI was still investigating the shootings in Baghdad on September 16.

No evidence supports assertions by Blackwater employees that they were fired upon by Iraqi civilians, the Times reported.

The FBI has concluded that three of the deaths may have been justified under rules that allow lethal force in response to an imminent threat, the Times reported.

Investigators have concluded that as many as five of the company's guards opened fire during the shootings, the newspaper reported. One guard has become the focus of the investigation, the Times reported, because that guard was responsible for several deaths.

A government official familiar with the investigation said on Tuesday that no conclusions have been reached about any of the fatalities. A State Department official said he was not aware that the department had been informed of any findings. Both requested anonymity because the investigation is still under way.

Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek indictments, and some officials have expressed pessimism that adequate criminal laws exist to enable them to charge any Blackwater employee with criminal wrongdoing, the Times reported.

Asked about the Times report, Anne Tyrrell, a Blackwater spokeswoman, said the company "supports the stringent accountability of the industry. If it is determined that one person was complicit in the wrongdoing, we would support accountability in that. The key people in this have not spoken with investigators."

The shootings took place in Baghdad's Nisoor Square. Blackwater contends that its convoy was attacked before it opened fire, but the Iraqi government's investigation concluded that the shootings were unprovoked.

State Department officials have said it has offered limited immunity to private security contractors involved in shootings in Iraq. They disagreed with law enforcement officials that such actions could jeopardize prosecutions in the September 16 incident.

The case could be one of the first thorny issues to be decided by Michael Mukasey, who was sworn in as attorney-general last week. He may be faced with a decision to turn down a prosecution on legal grounds at a time when a furor has erupted in Congress about the administration's failure to hold security contractors accountable for their misdeeds, the Times said.

Source: China Daily/Agencies

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