Those Touched by Blackwater Incident Express Outrage, Mistrust and Doubt
Sunday, December 14, 2008
BAGHDAD, Dec. 13 -- They came for their mothers and daughters, their brothers and fathers, the young and old who died that day. Some hobbled in on crutches. Others were helped in by relatives. One man wore dark sunglasses to hide his ruined eye. One woman cried openly, gently wiping away the tears sliding down her cheeks.
Athra Khalil, 32, told a lie to her six toddlers before bringing them to this sprawling police base on Saturday. She didn't mind. She lies to them every day.
"Now, they ask me, 'Where's my father?' I always tell them he's at work," said Khalil, staring at her daughter in the hot-pink sweater.
"Today, I told them we are going to have a nice lunch to celebrate the end of Eid," she added, referring to the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha.
Her husband and the others were all shot by employees of the U.S.-based security contractor Blackwater Worldwide, an incident that reshaped the lives of these families -- and the direction of their nation. Now the relatives had arrived here to challenge a group of Americans with one question: Can they trust the United States to bring those contractors to justice?
Last week, five of the contractors were indicted on charges including manslaughter for the September 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nisoor Square that killed at least 14 Iraqis and injured at least 20 others. A sixth Blackwater guard negotiated a plea agreement to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.
On Saturday, a group of U.S. prosecutors arrived to explain to the families of the victims and the wounded both the charges and the procedures of the U.S. judicial system.
Most in the crowd had already imagined the punishment they would hand out, if only they could.
"We hope they jail them for life," said Douraid Ishmail, 31, whose brother Oday was killed when a bullet tore through his head. Ishmail held Oday's 4-year-old son Zaitoon in his lap.
"It's not enough for us that they jail them," said Khatoon Hassan, 55. "They have to burn them alive." She had accompanied her neighbor, Entisar Atchan, whose 18-year-old son was killed in the square. He was a soldier and the family depended on his salary.
Zuhair Hussein, the mother of Oday, and his wife and three children also depended on his salary. They hoped the Americans would talk about compensation. "A few days ago, when it rained, our roof started leaking," Hussein lamented. "Now, I give the children only small portions of food."
Mehdi Abdul Khudir wants something he cannot have. "If I am giving all the money in the world, can I ever get my eye back?" asked Khudir, staring from his black sunglasses. "There is no court in the world that can bring my eye back."