Contractors Cleared in Videotaped Attacks

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 11, 2006

BAGHDAD, June 10 -- The U.S. military has concluded its investigation into a video that appeared to show private security contractors shooting at civilian vehicles driving on highways in Iraq and determined that no one involved will be charged with a crime, a military spokesman in Baghdad said.

Agents with the Army's Criminal Investigation Division "reviewed the facts available concerning the incident to determine if there was any potential criminality that falls within CID's investigative purview," Maj. Timothy Keefe said in a written statement. "The review determined that no further investigative effort on the part of Army CID was warranted."

The investigation, which officials have not released or discussed publicly, began after the video was posted on an Internet site purportedly run by employees of Aegis Defense Services, a London-based firm with a $293 million U.S. government security contract -- the largest of any security firm working in Iraq.

An Aegis spokeswoman, Sarah Pearson, declined to comment on the findings, saying the company had not yet seen the report. She also would not comment on the company's internal investigation into the matter.

The initial online version of the video, posted in late 2005 on the site, ( ) appeared to have been taken from a camera mounted in the rear window of a sport-utility vehicle. It contained several brief clips of cars being strafed by machine-gun fire, set to the music of the Elvis Presley song "Mystery Train." A version posted months later contained laughter and the voices of men joking with one another during the shootings.

The scenes were aired widely on Arabic-language satellite television and prompted denunciations from several members of Congress. The military said it was investigating, as did Aegis. Keefe said that the "alleged shooter" in the video was determined to be South African and that the military would share the results of the investigation with British and South African authorities.

Investigators said they believe that those officials "will come to the same conclusion that CID did as to the lack of probable cause to believe that a crime was committed," Keefe's statement said.

More than 25,000 private security contractors are working in Iraq, according to U.S. government estimates. Their presence is a result, in part, of the Pentagon's efforts to keep down the number of American troops in Iraq by privatizing aspects of the war effort. They are frequent targets of insurgent attacks and have also been criticized by Iraqi authorities, civilians and U.S. ground commanders for alleged indiscriminate killings of civilians.

No security contractor has been prosecuted for such incidents, in part because of an agreement forged soon after the U.S. invasion in 2003 that made it impossible for the Iraqi government to prosecute contract workers. While several contractors have been relieved of their duties for shooting without cause, actions taken against contractors are generally carried out quietly and rarely, if ever, disclosed.

On May 14, 2005, two private security guards working for the U.S. Embassy shot and killed a civilian while escorting diplomats in Baghdad. They were relieved of their duties, an embassy official said in an interview at the time, but the embassy would not disclose how many of its security staff had been similarly reprimanded.

On Feb. 7, security contractors for the U.S. Embassy branch office in the northern city of Kirkuk shot and killed two men in a taxi. The embassy said at the time that it was initiating an investigation into the incident. In response to queries about the investigation in March, the embassy said the results would not be released.

"It is correct that the State Dept. conducted an investigation--as it does with all such events involving State contractors," embassy spokesman Dennis Culkin said at the time, in a written statement. "However, as is also standard, the results of such federal investigations are not made public. So we're not able to share any investigation results."

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