WASHINGTON – A Blackwater Worldwide spokeswoman says the company supports "stringent accountability" for any wrongdoing in the wake of a New York Times report that federal investors have found that the shooting deaths of at least 14 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater guards in Baghdad nearly two months ago violated rules of deadly force.
The Times cited unidentified civilian and military officials in reporting for Wednesday's editions that the killings of at least 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians shot by Blackwater personnel guarding a U.S. Embassy convoy were unjustified and violated standards in place governing the use of deadly force.
Responding to 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."
She added that the company will withhold further comment "until the findings are made available."
A government official familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press on Tuesday night 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.
The Times said the Justice Department is already reviewing the findings even though the FBI is still investigating the Sept. 16 shootings.
No evidence supports assertions by Blackwater employees that they were fired upon by Iraqi civilians, but 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 paper reported.
"Without a doubt, the teams were faced with deadly force that day," the Blackwater spokeswoman said.
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.
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 Sept. 16 incident.
Rep. David E. Price, D-N.,C., has sponsored legislation to apply U.S. criminal law to contractors serving overseas and called for the Justice Department to hold someone accountable for the shootings.
"We've always supported any productive moves toward accountability, including Congressman Price's bill," said Tyrrell, the Blackwater spokeswoman.
Paul Cox, a spokesman for Price, said late Tuesday that "we don't have any independent verification of this. I don't have any access to the report." But he said if the FBI concludes there was criminal wrongdoing, "just because there are deficiencies in the law, and Congressman Price is trying to rectify that, that's no excuse not to prosecute."
"For him, it just underscores that the administration should work with Congress in trying to pass this bill," added Cox.