On March 31, 2004 four Blackwater employees by the names of Scott Helvenston, Jerry Zovko, Wes Batalona, and Mike Teague were ambushed and killed in the city of Fallujah by an angry Iraqi mob, their bodies burned and mutilated, and then hung ominously from a bridge. When news of this event hit American media, outrage and anger emanated from the general public, which was exactly the reaction that George Bush and his military commanders hoped would be elicited, giving the green light for U.S. troops to retaliate hard and reinstate American control and dominance in the city with the indignant approval of the American public.
What the news reports did not detail however was that the four men were sent into Fallujah at a time when any reasonable bystander would have been foolish to not expect retaliation from exasperated and irate Iraqi civilians, and that their mission (to deliver cutlery to a client of Blackwater) was carried out in a manner that explicitly violated company policy and defied common sense.
At the time Fallujah was a particularly problematic center of resistance to American intrusion, and a strong insurgence sentiment was growing amongst the Iraqi community due to an accumulating series of injustices and evils they had been subjected to by the American troops, whose recent battle tactics had involved attempts to forcibly occupy the city. In April 2003, U.S. military forces had senselessly massacred unarmed Iraqi civilians who were protesting outside of a school on Hay Nazzal Street killing thirteen people- six of whom were children- and injuring at least seventy-five more .Similarly, the week before the four Blackwater contractors were ambushed and killed, U.S. troops had killed more than a dozen Fallujans in a gun battle, including civilian women and children. Tensions centered on the American presence in Fallujah had been brewing dangerously for a while, and the Blackwater contractors’ delivery excursion was the incendiary catalyst that brought all those tensions to a head.
Somewhere in the superior chain of command of Erik Prince’s corporation, inexcusable and deliberate oversights had been made when putting together the delivery task. Against prudence and common practice in violent warfare, the contractors were sent out on a high risk task without ever having worked together before, or having a chance to bond. The men were driving a two vehicle SUV caravan with only two men per car. SUV’s are widely understood to be “bullet-magnets” because of their association with being widely used by foreign contractors in Iraq, and on top of that both the State Department and the CIA strongly recommend never sending less than a six man unit into hostile territory. Because there were only four men, the passenger of each SUV was left to navigate and defend from attacks virtually all on his own. Also, because the mission was allegedly organized at the last minute, the routine pre-operation intelligence assessment to review the threat level along the travel route was not made available to them. Lastly, and perhaps most heinous, was the fact that in a blatant alteration of the original Eurest Support Services contract signed between Blackwater and its client Regency Hotel and Hospital business the four contractors were not even driving armored vehicles.
“The original contract between Blackwater/Regency and ESS, signed March 8, 2004 recognized that ‘the current threat in the Iraqi theater of operations’ would remain ‘consistent and dangerous’ and called for a minimum of three men in each vehicle on security missions ‘with a minimum of two armored vehicles to support ESS movements.’ But on March 12, 2004, Blackwater and Regency signed a subcontract that specified security provisions identical to the original except for one word: ‘armored.’ It was deleted from the contract, allegedly saving Blackwater $1.5 million .”
Although before the Fallujah incident Erik Prince’s corporation was widely well recognized within the corporate security worlds, it was not until after the mob killing of four of its contractors that knowledge of Blackwater’s existence and the role it played in foreign affairs became prevalent among the common populace. And even then the image of its deceased employees was used as skewered propaganda to warp public sentiment in order to create grounds on which to violently invade, besiege, and collectively punish all the citizens of Fallujah in retribution for the blow to the image of American control and supremacy that the March 31st incident had caused. It was not until some time had elapsed that the families of the four victims and other unsatisfied skeptics began to question why the incident had even occurred in the first place and details were unearthed that shed light on a circumvention of appropriate policies and Blackwater’s inappropriate dereliction of its duty to its contractors.