Out of the blue I received an email from a member of Ambassador Bremer's Blackwater Personal Security Detail (PSD). He had visited my web site and seen the pictures that I had taken of Bremer's visit to Karbala in February 2004. The emailer accompanied Mr. Bremer as a part of his PSD during that visit. I also wrote about the visit in my book "Messages from Babylon." The man asked that I keep his name confidential and I will honor his request. He explained that anonymity was important for those in that line of work, and I imagine he wanted to continue working in that area.
Evidently, current and former members of Blackwater are a tight fraternity and they stay in contact with each other. Thus, I learned from this gentleman's email that three Blackwater employees who were in Karbala with us that day would later die in violent deaths. Two of the men's deaths came shortly after the visit. One of the three was Jerry Zovko, a Croatian-American, former Army Ranger, and one of the four Blackwater employees who were ambushed and killed in Fallujah on March 31, 2004.
Much has been written about Blackwater and their activities in Iraq and other places. The name Blackwater has almost become synonymous with controversy. I don't have a lot of first hand knowledge about the controversies and didn't take the time to read all the books and articles about what the firm's employees did or did not do.
I can comment on what I know. Iraq was a tough place to try to make good, informed judgements and decisions. Everything was so strange and alien that situations were difficult to place into some kind of context. And context was everything. In order to compare the different possibilities, or courses of action, one had to evaluate these possibilities against your base of knowledge or known experiences. And to be honest with you, sometimes as I searched for an answer I realized that even though I was fifty years old and had been in the military 28 years I didn't have the knowledge or life experience to make an informed decision. But the decision was mine to make and no one else's. The toughest part was that my decision might mean life or death to someone, possibly me, or even worse, someone else.
So many of the decisions would seem innocuous to the casual observer. Should we go this way or that way? That's not too difficult a decision in Tallahassee, but is one with wider ramifications in Baghdad. Should we go today or tomorrow? Sometimes today looked a little too dangerous, so I went the next day. Thank God I didn't make any decisions that got anyone killed. That's why I hesitate to criticize decisions made in a combat zone.
"Why, that was obviously a stupid decision," you might say.
Very little was obvious in Iraq, or that clear, or defined, or crystalline. The men in the Blackwater PSD that I saw in Karbala on that February day in 2004 looked like they were trying very hard to do a very difficult job as professionally as they could. I could see that they were under a lot of stress. I can't speak to what the rest of the Blackwater people did or didn't do. I wasn't there. I didn't know what they new at the time of the decision.
And even if I did, I wouldn't be quick to criticize.