That apparently lax attitude among those who oversaw contract implementation for the State and Defense Departments led contractors to believe they had a license to take a liberal approach to the rules of engagement, which only authorize "defensive fire." David Horner, for example, drove trucks for the Kuwaiti-based Crescent Security Group through a town north of Baghdad. Horner says that after a roadside bomb struck his convoy, his colleagues subsequently "blazed through that town all the time ... a lot of times we were out of ammo." Rarely, Horner said, did the team report their weapons discharges, and he himself quit after a team member shot two people who appeared to be Iraqi National Guardsmen.
"I was like, 'Oh man, we shot some of our own guys,' " Horner said. He said he consulted with the Crescent team leader as the two Iraqis writhed in pain, one shot in the legs, the other with "a bullet or two in his shoulder." Soldiers from a nearby Iraqi army checkpoint were approaching to investigate.
"Let's get the [expletive] out of here," Horner quoted the team leader as saying before the Crescent team drove off.
"That was my last mission," Horner said. "I wasn't over there to wreck somebody's life. There was too much cowboying going on. I really didn't know if we had made things worse over there. More than likely we did; that was my feeling."
At least one ex-Blackwater guard recognized what Prince wouldn't: that indiscriminate violence, even for understandable defensive measures, turns Iraqis hostile; necessitating even more violence, leading to a vicious circle. State's rules of engagement, for instance, include things like throwing water bottles at oncoming cars, rather than practices more likely to avert using lethal force, like firing warning shots into the air. Those rules, defended by State diplomatic-security chief Richard Griffin yesterday, can lead to needless Iraqi fatalities.
"From the State Department perspective, they're looking at it as a liability thing: What happens to that round when it goes downrange," said one of the former Blackwater security guards. "I was like: 'Look, give them a chance. Not every Iraqi in a car that's near you is a bad guy.' The guy whose car you shoot up today is also the guy who could be planting an IED [improvised explosive device] tomorrow. And the only reason he changed sides now is the car that took him 10 years of life savings to buy, now you've destroyed it."
A basic principle of counterinsurgency is that the use of force is a delicate thing, and one that can easily become counterproductive. It's taken the military a long time to apply that principle in Iraq. Private security companies, however, and their contracting officers at State and Defense, haven't seemed interested in learning the lesson so far.