Blackwater Military Contractor Possibly Kills Iraqi VP's Bodyguard

Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi tried to hide details of the shooting death of one of his personal bodyguards, including information about the U.S.-based private security contractor suspected in the incident, according to records obtained by a newspaper.

Abdul-Mahdi assured then-U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad that "he had tried to keep the issue from the public eye and had not disclosed to the press the nationality of the suspect," according to a Jan. 8 memo sent by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The memo was obtained by The Virginian-Pilot newspaper through a Freedom of Information Act request.

No one has been charged in the Christmas Eve shooting of Abdul-Mahdi's bodyguard. The State Department has said a private contractor shot and killed the officer, while North Carolina-based Blackwater USA has said one of its employees was involved in the incident.

According to the memo, Khalilzad told Abdul-Mahdi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents, the embassy was working with Blackwater to "achieve an adequate offer of compensation."

Blackwater has received hundreds of millions of dollars worth of government contracts to train military personnel and supply security contractors to augment U.S. government operations in Iraq and elsewhere.

"Abdul-Mahdi said that justice was even more important than compensation, noting that Iraqis would not understand how a foreigner could kill an Iraqi and return a free man to his own country," the memo said.

During a congressional hearing in February, Blackwater general counsel Andy Howell said the company had fired the unnamed employee and flown him home. He added that Blackwater was cooperating with a Justice Department investigation.

Blackwater President Gary Jackson told the Virginian-Pilot on Tuesday that to the best of his knowledge, the investigation is ongoing. He said the U.S. government directed the company to fly the employee home.

"We have supported the investigation, and if a grand jury sends it to trial, Blackwater will support that as well," Jackson told the newspaper. "As we have said all along, we strongly support holding responsible anyone who engages in misconduct."

The company would neither confirm nor deny that it has offered compensation to the victim's family, and a Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the case.