Video: Did U.S. contractor cause American deaths in Iraq?

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updated 2/7/2007 11:20:37 PM ET 2007-02-08T04:20:37

It remains among the most gruesome events of the war: March 2004, four Americans, private contractors, massacred and dragged through the streets of Fallujah.

Three years later, Katy Helvenston-Wettengel is out to prove that her son Scott, a former Navy SEAL, was betrayed by his company, Blackwater USA.

"He went over there really believing in this country, and this contractor had been hired by this country and he trusted them with his life," she says.

Wednesday, Helvenston-Wettengel and other families took their case to Congress.

"I was told he was still alive when they tied him to the back of that truck and drug him though the streets of Fallujah, and that was before they decapitated him," Helvenston-Wettengel told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)

The families now are suing Blackwater, charging the men were shortchanged, sent out without armored vehicles, without heavy machine guns, even without a map.

"Why couldn't you give him the protection and the tools that he needed to complete his mission?" asked Kristal Batalona, the daughter of victim Wesley Batalona, her voice cracking.

"Do you believe that Blackwater was more concerned about the safety of its personnel or how much profit it could make from the contract?" Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, asked Donna Zovko, the mother of victim Jerry Zovko.

"It is profit," she replied. "It is definitely profit."

The committee produced an e-mail from the day before the attack — an urgent appeal from Blackwater's Iraq manager for more ammunition, more powerful guns, body armor.

"I have requested hard (armored) cars from the beginning," read the e-mail.

Wednesday, a Blackwater official said the company cares about the safety of employees and that these men had adequate equipment.

"Have you skimped on equipment?" Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, asked Andrew Howell, general counsel for Blackwater USA.

"We have not skimped on equipment, no, sir," replied Howell.

But the families complain that there still are few rules or standards on how contractors operate, and no accountability when things go horribly wrong.

Chairman Waxman lamented how difficult it has been for Congress to learn the true cost of the Blackwater contracts to U.S. taxpayers.

"It’s remarkable that the world of contractors and subcontractors is so murky that we can’t even get to the bottom of this, let alone calculate how many millions of dollars taxpayers lose in each step of the subcontracting process," he said.

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