January 28, 2010
Every detail of September 16, 2007, is burned in Mohammed Kinani’s memory. Shortly after 9 am he was preparing to leave his house for work at his family’s auto parts business in Baghdad when he got a call from his sister, Jenan, who asked him to pick her and her children up across town and bring them back to his home for a visit. The Kinanis are a tightknit Shiite family, and Mohammed often served as a chauffeur through Baghdad’s dangerous streets to make such family gatherings possible.
An accompanying slideshow of Ali Kinani, his family, and the Nisour massacre can be found here.
Mohammed had just pulled away from his family’s home in the Khadamiya neighborhood in his SUV. His youngest son, 9-year-old Ali, came tearing down the road after him, asking his father if he could accompany him. Mohammed told him to run along and play with his brothers and sister. But Ali, an energetic and determined kid, insisted. Mohammed gave in, and off the father and son went.
As Mohammed and Ali drove through Baghdad that hot and sunny Sunday, they passed a newly rebuilt park downtown. Ali gazed at the park and then turned to his father and asked, “Daddy, when are you gonna bring us here?”
“Next week,” Mohammed replied. “If God wills it, son.”
Ali would never visit that park. Within a few hours, he would be dead from a gunshot wound to the head. While you may have never heard his name, you probably know something about how Ali Mohammed Hafedh Kinani died. He was the youngest person killed by Blackwater forces in the infamous Nisour Square massacre.
In May 2008 Mohammed flew to Washington to testify in front of a grand jury investigating the shooting. It was his first time out of Iraq. The US Attorney, Jeffrey Taylor, praised Mohammed for his “commendable courage.” A year after the shooting, in December 2008, five Blackwater guards were indicted on manslaughter charges, while a sixth guard pleaded guilty to killing an unarmed Iraqi. American justice, it seemed to Mohammed, was working. “I’m a true believer in the justness and fairness of American law,” Mohammed said.
But this past New Year’s Eve, federal Judge Ricardo Urbina threw out all the criminal charges against the five Blackwater guards. At least seventeen Iraqis died that day, and prosecutors believed they could prove fourteen of the killings were unjustified. The manslaughter charges were dismissed not because of a lack of evidence but because of what Urbina called serious misconduct on the part of the prosecutors.
Then, a few days after the dismissal of the criminal case, Blackwater reached a civil settlement with many of the Nisour Square victims, reportedly paying about $100,000 per death.
Blackwater released a statement declaring it was “pleased” with the outcome, which enabled the company to move forward “free of the costs and distraction of ongoing litigation.” But Mohammed Kinani would not move on. He refused to take the deal Blackwater offered. As a result, he may well be the one man standing between Blackwater and total impunity for the killings in Nisour Square.
On September 15, 2009, the night before the second anniversary of his son’s death, Mohammed Kinani sued Blackwater in its home state of North Carolina, along with company owner Erik Prince and the six men Mohammed believes are responsible for his son’s death. In an exclusive interview providing the most detailed eyewitness account of the massacre that has yet been published, Mohammed told his story to The Nation.
Mohammed Kinani, 38, is a gentle man, deeply religious and soft-spoken. When we meet, he takes off his hat as he greets me with a slight bow. He then presents me with a gift–a box of baklava–and insists that we try some right away. Before we sit down to discuss the events that led to the death of his son, Mohammed goes out of his way to assure me that no question is off limits and that he wants Americans to know what happened that day. It was as though he was telling me it was OK to ask him to relive the horror. “Those few minutes in Nisour Square, I will never forget; so whatever you ask me, I will answer with absolute clarity,” he said.
Before we talk about Nisour Square, Mohammed tells me about his life. He was born in Baghdad in 1971 and grew up in a large home with his siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents. His father, Hafedh Abdulrazzaq Sadeq Kinani, was a merchant who traded cars and auto parts. After high school, Mohammed enrolled at a technical institute in Baghdad but ultimately dropped out to take over the family business with his brothers. He avoided mandatory military service in Saddam’s forces by paying his way out. He married a relative from his mother’s side of the family and bought a home in Baghdad’s al Adel neighborhood, and they had three sons and a daughter. Mohammed said his family despised Saddam, “a dictator who stole people’s freedom.”
Mohammed welcomed the arrival of US forces in Baghdad in April 2003. “On the first day the US Army entered Baghdad I was personally giving away free juice and candy in the street,” Mohammed remembers. He and Ali would give out water and take photos with the troops when when Humvees passed by their house. “One of the soldiers even carried Ali on board one of the Humvees and took a photo with my son,” Mohammed remembers. “My son loved the American Army.”
In November 2006, as sectarian violence spread across Baghdad, Mohammed and his family were driven from their home by a prominent Sunni militia leader, and they moved into Mohammed’s parents’ home. Mohammed was devastated, but he also saw it as part of the price of freedom. “We cannot question God’s plans,” he says.
Before September 16, 2007, Mohammed had never heard of Blackwater. When he would stop at a US checkpoint, he would smile at the soldiers and thank them for being there. Ali enjoyed sticking his head out the window at checkpoints and telling Iraqi police, “I’m in the Special Forces.” The police would laugh, Mohammed recalls, and wave him through, saying, “You’re one of us.” So when Mohammed found himself in a traffic jam that he thought was the result of a US military checkpoint at Nisour Square, nothing seemed out of the ordinary to him.
To pick up his sister, Mohammed would have to pass Nisour Square twice. The first time he passed, he noticed it was extremely congested. There was a construction project nearby and Iraqi police lingering on the roadside directing traffic. Eventually, he and Ali picked up Jenan and her three children and began the return journey.
A few blocks from the square, they encountered two Iraqi checkpoints and were waved through. As they approached the square, they saw one armored vehicle and then another, with men brandishing machine guns atop each one, Mohammed recalls. The armored cars swiftly blocked off traffic. One of the gunners held both fists in the air, which Mohammed took as a gesture to stop. “Myself and all the cars before and behind me stopped,” Mohammed says. “We followed their orders. I thought they were some sort of unit belonging to the American military, or maybe just a military police unit. Any authority giving you an order to stop, you follow the order.” It turns out the men in the armored cars were neither US military nor MPs. They were members of a Blackwater team code-named Raven 23.
As the family waited in traffic, two more Blackwater vehicles became visible. Mohammed noticed a family in a car next to his–a man, woman and child. The man was staring at Mohammed’s car, and Mohammed thought the man was eyeing Jenan. “I thought he was checking my sister out,” Mohammed remembers. “So I yelled at him and said, ‘What are you looking at?'” Mohammed noticed that the man looked frightened. “I think they shot the driver in the car in front of you,” the man told him.
Mohammed scanned the area and noticed that the back windshield of the white Kia sedan in front of him was shattered. The man in the car next to Mohammed began to panic and tried to turn his car around. He ended up bumping into a taxi, and an argument ensued. The taxi driver exited his car and began yelling. Mohammed tried to break up the argument, telling the taxi driver that a man had been shot and that he should back up so the other car could exit. The taxi driver refused and got back into his vehicle.
At that point, an Iraqi police officer, Ali Khalaf Salman, approached the Kia sedan, and it started to slowly drift. The driver had been shot, and the car was gliding in neutral toward a Blackwater armored car. Salman, in an interview, described how he tried to stop it by pushing backward. He saw a panicked woman inside the car; she was clutching a young man covered in blood who had been shot in the head. She was shrieking, “My son! My son! Help me, help me!” Salman remembered looking toward the Blackwater shooters. “I raised my left arm high in the air to try to signal to the convoy to stop the shooting.” He said he thought the men would cease fire, given that he was a clearly identified police officer.
“As the officer was waving, the men on the armored cars started shooting at that car,” Mohammed says. “And it wasn’t warning shots; they were shooting as in a battle. It was as though they were in a fighting field. I thought the police officer was killed. It was insane.” Officer Salman managed to dive out of the way as the bullets rained down. “I saw parts of the woman’s head flying in front of me,” recalled his colleague, Officer Sarhan Thiab. “They immediately opened heavy fire at us.”
That’s how the Nisour Square massacre began.
“What can I tell you?” Mohammed says, closing his eyes. “It was like the end of days.”
Mohammed would later learn that the first victims that day, in the white Kia, were a young Iraqi medical student, Ahmed Haithem Al Rubia’y, and his mother, Mahassin, a physician. Mohammed is crystal clear that the car posed no threat. “There was absolutely no shooting at the Blackwater men,” he says. “All of a sudden, they started shooting in all directions, and they shot at everyone in front of them. There was nothing left in that street that wasn’t shot: the ground, cars, poles, sidewalks; they shot everything in front of them.” As the Blackwater gunners shot up the Rubia’ys’ vehicle, Mohammed said, it soon looked like a sieve “due to how many bullet holes it had.” A Blackwater shooter later admitted that they also fired a grenade at the car, causing the car to explode. Mohammed says the Blackwater men then started firing across the square. “They were shooting in all directions,” he remembers. He describes the shooting as “random yet still concentrated. It was concentrated and focused on what they aimed at and still random as they shot in all directions.”
One of the Blackwater shooters was on top of an armored vehicle firing an automatic weapon, he says. “Every time he would finish his clip, he would throw it on the ground and would load another one in and would start shooting again, and finish the new one and replace it with another.” One young Iraqi man got out of his car to run, and as he fled, the Blackwater shooter gunned him down and continued firing into his body as it lay on the pavement, Mohammed says. “He was on the ground bleeding, and they’re shooting nonstop, and it wasn’t single bullets.” The Blackwater shooter, he says, would fire at other Iraqis and cars and then return to pump more bullets into the dead man on the ground. “He sank in his own blood, and every minute the [Blackwater shooter] would shoot left and right and then go back to shoot the dead man, and I could see that his body would shake with every bullet. He was already dead, but his body was still reacting to the bullets. [The shooter] would fire at someone else and then go back to shoot at this dead man.” Shaking his head slowly, Mohammed says somberly, “The guy is dead in a pool of blood. Why would you continue shooting him?”
In his vehicle, as the shooting intensified, Mohammed yelled for the kids to get down. He and his sister did the same. “My car was hit many times in different places. All I could hear from my car was the gun shots and the sound of glass shattering,” he remembers. Jenan was frantic. “Why are they shooting at us?” she asked him. Just then, a bullet pierced the windshield, hitting Jenan’s headrest. Mohammed shows me a photo of the bullet hole.
As gunfire rained on the SUV, Jenan grabbed Mohammed’s hair, yanked his head down and covered him with her body. “My young sister was trying to protect me by covering me with her body, so I forced myself out of her grip and covered her with my body to protect her. It was so horrific that my little sister, whom I’m supposed to protect, was trying to protect me.” Mohammed managed to slip his cellphone from his pocket and was going to call his father. “It’s customary that when in agony before death, you ask those close to you to look after your loved ones,” he says. Jenan demanded that Mohammed put down the phone, reminding him that their father had had two strokes already. “If he hears what’s happening, he’ll die immediately,” she said. “Maybe he’ll die before us.”
At that moment, bullets pierced the SUV through the front windshield. A bullet hit the rearview mirror, causing it to whack Mohammed in the face. “We imagined that in a few seconds everyone was going to die–everyone in the car, my sister and I and our children. We thought that every second that passed meant one of us dying.” He adds, “We remained still, my sister and I. I had her rest her head on my lap, and my body was on top of her. We’d sneak a peek from under the dashboard, and they continued shooting here and there, killing this one and that one.”
And then the shooting stopped.
Ali and his father were inseparable. Ali’s older brothers called him “Daddy’s favorite,” and the family affectionately called him by his kid nickname, Allawi. “He was the closest of my sons to me. He was my youngest and was always indulged,” recalls Mohammed. “He would sleep on my arm. He’s 9 and half years old but still sleeps on my arm. He has his own room, but he never slept alone.” When the boy turned 9, Ali’s father thought, “This can’t go on–him sleeping on my arm as his pillow. So I said, ‘Son, you’re older now; go sleep like your brothers, in your bed in your room. It doesn’t work anymore; you’re getting older. You’re gonna be a man soon.'”
“As you wish, father,” Ali said. “He always said that,” Mohammed recalls. “As you wish, father.” Ali left the room, but Mohammed looked over and saw the shadow of Ali’s feet under the door. “So I called him in, and Ali opened the door and said, ‘Daddy, I’m Allawi, not Ali,'” Mohammed remembers. “He was telling me that he’s still young.” Mohammed gave in, and Ali slept in his arms again. “He never had a pillow besides my arm,” says Mohammed.
As he sat in his severely damaged SUV, Mohammed thought that, in the midst of horror, a miracle had blessed his car. We are alive, he thought. As the Blackwater forces retreated, Mohammed told Jenan he was going to go check on the man who had been repeatedly shot by Blackwater. “I was deeply impacted by that man they continued shooting at,” Mohammed recalls. As he exited his car, Mohammed’s nephew yelled, “Uncle, Ali is dead. Ali is dead!” Jenan began to scream.
Mohammed rushed around to Ali’s door and saw that the window was broken. He looked inside and saw his son’s head resting against the door. He opened it, and Ali slumped toward him. “I was standing in shock looking at him as the door opened, and his brain fell on the ground between my feet,” Mohammed recalls. “I looked and his brain was on the ground.” He remembers people yelling at him, telling him to get out while he could. “But I was in another world,” he says. Then Mohammed snapped back to consciousness. He put Ali back in the car and placed his hand over his son’s heart. It was still beating. He got in the driver’s seat of his car, tires blown out, radiator damaged, full of bullets, liquids leaking everywhere, hoping still that he could save Allawi’s life. Somehow he managed to get the car near Yarmouk Hospital, right near the square. He picked up Ali and ran toward the hospital. He nearly collapsed on the road, and an Iraqi police officer took Ali from his arms and ran him into the hospital.
Mohammed checked that the other children were safe and then dashed to the hospital. “I entered the emergency room, and blood was everywhere, dead people, injured people everywhere,” he remembers. “My son was in the last bed; the doctor was with him and had already hooked him with an IV line.” As Mohammed stood by Ali’s bed, the doctor told him that Ali was brain dead. “His heart is beating,” the doctor said, “and it will continue to beat until he bleeds out and dies.” The doctor told him that if there were any hope to be found, it would require taking Ali in an ambulance to a neurological hospital across town. The fastest route meant that they had to pass through Nisour Square. Iraqi police stopped them and told them they could not pass. “The US Army is here and won’t let you through,” the officer told them. The driver took an alternate route and was going so fast the ambulance almost crashed twice. When they got to the hospital, Mohammed offered to pay the driver–at least for the gas, which is customary. The driver refused. “No, I would like to donate blood to your son if he needs it,” he told Mohammed. A few moments later, Mohammed stood with a doctor who told him there was nothing they could do. Ali was dead.
Mohammed wanted to take his son’s body home with him, but the hospital regulations required that he get papers from the police. So Mohammed had to leave. He spent hours tracking down the right authority to sign off. Finally he was able to take Ali’s body to prepare him for a Muslim burial. That night there was no electricity in Baghdad, so they had to run a generator to keep air-conditioning going to protect Ali’s body from the sweltering heat. The next morning they took Ali to the southern holy city of Najaf to be buried at the family plot. “As Muslims, we believe that Ali died innocent with no obligation,” says Mohammed. “My son died at an age where there were no strings attached. My son was young and innocent, so he flew up [to heaven] like a white dove. This is what’s making it easier on me. I always tell my wife that your son is a bird in heaven, he’s with God and when we die we will be united eternally.” Mohammed looks down and then up. “I still thank God for everything. I thank him because we were six in that car, and he’s the only one to go. Although that one is piece of my heart, it happened and I can’t change it. I have my other kids that I will raise, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep them safe.”
After Ali’s death, some of Mohammed’s friends came to him and asked him if the death had changed his attitude toward the Americans. It hadn’t, he told them. “I honestly separate distinctly between Blackwater and the American people and the American government,” he says. “I honestly love America and the American people. What happened to my family is totally isolated from the American people and government.”
Mohammed carries with him a letter to his family signed by Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of US forces in Iraq, dated June 25, 2009. The letter is the result of an extraordinary gesture made by the Kinanis after Ali’s death. The US Embassy offered to provide a $10,000 condolence payment to the families of the victims of Nisour Square, making clear it was not a remedy for what happened and not a substitute for any potential legal action against the shooters. Initially Mohammed refused the money, but the embassy pursued his family, urging them to take it. They eventually did, but with one condition: that the US military accept a $5000 donation from the Kinanis to the family of a US soldier killed in Iraq. Mohammed’s wife, Fatimah, delivered the gift to the US Embassy. “My wife labeled it as a gift from a mother who sacrificed a son on the path to freedom, a gift from Ali’s family to whichever US military family the embassy chose, to any soldier’s family that was killed here in Iraq, who lost his life in Iraq for the sake of Iraq.” Soon thereafter, Fatimah received the letter from General Odierno. “Your substantial generosity on behalf of the families of fallen American soldiers has touched me deeply,” Odierno wrote.
After Ali’s death, the thought of suing Blackwater didn’t cross Mohammed’s mind. He readily cooperated with the US military and federal investigators, and he believed that justice would be done in America. But when he would go to the US Embassy, Mohammed recalls, he would get “hammered there. They all wanted me to shut up so they could defend Blackwater.” He says an embassy official tried to convince him that there had been a firefight that day, not a massacre. Mohammed was unfazed by what he considered a grand lie and continued to cooperate with the US investigation. Then, he says, Blackwater stepped in.
In a letter to ABC News threatening a defamation lawsuit for a story the network had done about Nisour Square, a Blackwater attorney denied that Blackwater had killed Ali, claiming instead that he was killed by “a stray bullet” possibly fired by the US military “an hour after Blackwater personnel had departed the scene.” The letter claimed Ali was killed by a “warning shot” that “ricocheted and killed the nine-year-old boy.” It said it was not “even possible” Blackwater “was responsible.”
Then an Iraqi attorney working with Blackwater approached Mohammed. But he wasn’t just any lawyer. Ja’afar al Moussawy was the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal, which prosecuted Saddam Hussein and other leading officials. He was the Iraqi lawyer.
Mohammed agreed to meet with Moussawy and Blackwater’s regional manager. When Mohammed arrived at the Blackwater headquarters in the Green Zone, there was a lunch spread laid out on the table. Moussawy asked Mohammed if he wanted to eat, and Mohammed said he would, “to show you that I have nothing against you personally.” Mohammed says he told them, “My problem is not with any of you, rather with the guys who killed my son.” After lunch, the manager asked Mohammed to tell him what happened in the square that day. Mohammed did. The manager then said he had an offer for him.
“We want to give you $20,000,” Mohammed recalls the Blackwater manager saying.
“I’m not taking a penny from you,” Mohammed told him. “I want no money.”
Mohammed asked for a blank piece of paper and a pen. “Look I have the paper and I can sign and waive all my [legal] rights. All my rights, I will sign away now, but under one condition: I want the owner of Blackwater to apologize to me publicly in America and say, ‘We killed your son, and we’re sorry.’ That’s all I want.”
The Blackwater manager asked Mohammed why it was so important to have an apology. Mohammed reminded him of Blackwater owner Erik Prince’s Congressional testimony two weeks after the Nisour Square shootings. In his testimony, Prince said his men “acted appropriately at all times” at Nisour Square and that the company had never killed innocent civilians, except perhaps by “ricochets” and “traffic accidents.” At that hearing, on October 2, 2007, a document was produced showing that before Nisour Square the State Department, Blackwater’s employer, had coordinated with Blackwater to set a low payout for Iraqi shooting victims because, in the words of a Department security official, if it was too high Iraqis may try “to get killed by our guys to financially guarantee their family’s future.”
Mohammed said he wanted Prince to publicly reject this characterization of “Iraqis as mercenaries.” The Blackwater manager, he says, told him Blackwater does not apologize. “You killed my son!” Mohammed exclaimed. “What do you want, then? Why did you bring me here?”
Mohammed then confronted the Blackwater manager about the letter to ABC News. “I told him that Blackwater was trying to stain the reputation of the American Army” by blaming Ali’s death on US soldiers. Mohammed recalls asking, “Aren’t you an American company, and this is your national army? Why would you do this to your own?” Mohammed says he threw the pen and paper at the Blackwater manager and left. In a statement to The Nation, a Blackwater spokesperson confirmed that the company had offered Mohammed a “condolence payment” and that he declined it.
It was then that Mohammed decided that his best recourse would be to cooperate with the US criminal investigation of the incident and to sue Blackwater in civil court the United States. “I want Blackwater, who refused to apologize, to get what they deserve according to the rule of law,” Mohammed says. “I had no other option but to go down the legal path, to have justice applied–something that will be comforting to victims’ families and something that might deter other criminals from committing the same act.”
Mohammed’s American lawyers contend, as did federal prosecutors, that the Blackwater men disobeyed orders from superiors not to leave the Green Zone, which ultimately led to the shooting at Nisour Square, and that they did not follow proper State Department guidelines for the use of force, instead shooting unprovoked at Mohammed’s car and the other civilians in the square. They also allege that Blackwater was not guarding any US official at the time of the shooting and that the Nisour Square killings amounted to an offensive operation against unarmed civilians. “Blackwater was where it shouldn’t have been, doing something it was not supposed to do,” says Mohammed’s lawyer Gary Mauney. They “weren’t even supposed to be in Nisour Square, and if they hadn’t have been, no shootings would have occurred.”
Unlike the other civil suits against Blackwater, which were settled in federal court in January, Mohammed’s case was filed in state court in North Carolina. It is also different because Mohammed is directly suing the six Blackwater men he believes were responsible for the shooting that day. The suit also argues that Prince and his network of Blackwater companies and affiliates are ultimately responsible for the conduct of the men at Nisour Square. The Blackwater shooters “weren’t doing anything related to their work for the government,” Mauney says. “After the events happened, Blackwater came out and said, ‘We support what they did. We think it was justified.’ They ratified the conduct of their employees.”
Moreover, Mohammed’s lawyers contend that the evidence that was ruled inadmissible in the criminal Nisour Square case because it was obtained in exchange for a promise of immunity and reportedly under threat of termination is valid evidence in their civil case. Several statements by Blackwater guards who were at the square that day directly bolster Mohammed and other Iraqis’ claim that it was an unprovoked shooting.
Perhaps the most potent piece of evidence in Mohammed’s case comes from one of the men he is suing. Jeremy Ridgeway, a turret gunner on the Raven 23 team that day, pleaded guilty to killing an unarmed civilian. In his sworn proffer that accompanied his guilty plea, Ridgeway admitted that he and the other five defendants “opened fire with automatic weapons and grenade launchers on unarmed civilians…killing at least fourteen people” and wounding at least twenty others. “None of these victims was an insurgent, and many were shot while inside of civilian vehicles that were attempting to flee” the Blackwater forces. Ridgeway also admitted that Raven 23 had “not been authorized” to leave the Green Zone and that after they departed, they “had been specifically ordered” by US Embassy officials to return. “In contravention of that order,” they proceeded to Nisour Square. Ridgeway admitted to shooting and killing Dr. Al Rubia’y in the Kia sedan, adding that another Blackwater shooter launched an M-203 grenade, “causing the vehicle to erupt in flames.” He acknowledged that “there had been no attempt to provide reasonable warnings to the driver.” As the Raven 23 convoy exited the square against the flow of traffic, Ridgeway admitted, Blackwater forces “continued to fire their machine guns at civilian vehicles that posed no threat to the convoy.”
Evidence in the criminal case also reveals that three other men on the Raven 23 convoy–Adam Frost, Mark Mealy, Matthew Murphy–were “horrified” at what their colleagues had done in the square that day. In a journal entry he wrote after the shooting, Frost recounted returning to the Green Zone, where he and Murphy confronted the men who did the killings at Nisour Square. “We started to curse at them and tell each other how fucked up they were,” he wrote. “We could not believe what we had just seen.” Murphy told the grand jury his colleagues were shooting “for nothing and for no reason.” Mealy described two of the defendants, Evan Liberty and Paul Slough, giving each other high-fives, “patting each other on the back and bragging about what a great job they had done.” In his testimony, Murphy described what he had seen that day as “pretty heinous shit.”
Frost, who prosecutors say did not fire his weapon at Nisour Square, wrote in his journal that he “prayed for comfort to be given to those families that we had broken.” When the FBI launched its investigation of the shooting, Frost said he was “strongly encouraged,” though not ordered, by Blackwater management not to answer its questions. He said a Blackwater manager had told him that the company was already fully cooperating with the State Department and had been honest in detailing the shooting. “I thought to myself, you fuckers have been anything but honest with the State Department and their investigation,” Frost wrote.
Mauney and his partner, Paul Dickinson, believe that these statements and others like them, along with the accounts of scores of Iraqi witnesses and forensic evidence, paint a case of overwhelming guilt on the part of the Blackwater shooters who killed Ali Kinani and the other Iraqis that day. “I think it’s important for folks to know that Blackwater has not won,” says Mauney. In addition to Mohammed, Mauney and Dickinson represent five other families impacted by Nisour Square, including those of two others killed by Blackwater. “They’ve come here with a heart full of belief in the US justice system,” says Dickinson. In late January on a visit to Baghdad, Vice President Joe Biden announced that the United States would appeal the dismissal of the criminal cases, saying the judge’s ruling was “not an acquittal.” Blackwater’s lawyers have said they believe the appeal will fail.
As we wrap up the interview, Mohammed Kinani gathers up all the photos he has brought to show me: pictures of Ali and his other children, pictures of his wife and of his severely damaged car. He stops and stares at a school portrait of Ali. We look at a video on his laptop of his home–the one currently occupied by the Sunni militia leader–and then he pauses and clicks on another video file. The screen pops up, and there is Ali, hopping around a swimming pool with his cousins and siblings. With a wide smile, Ali approaches Mohammed’s cellphone camera and says, “I am Allawi!”
Mohammed tells me, “I wish the US Congress would ask [Erik Prince] why they killed my innocent son, who called himself Allawi. Do you think that this child was a threat to your company? This giant company that has the biggest weapons, the heaviest weapons, the planes, and this boy was a threat to them?” he says. “I want Americans to know that this was a child that died for nothing.”
Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, published by Nation Books. He is an award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!