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U.S. State Department investigated Blackwater just weeks before Iraq shooting

Previously undisclosed documents reveal that the U.S. State Department began investigating security contractor Blackwater Worldwide just weeks before the company's guards killed 17 civilians in 2007.

The New York Times reports that the investigation was abandoned when Blackwater's top manager threatened to kill the U.S. government's chief investigator, and "no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq."

The government reports show that American Embassy officials in Baghdad at the time sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department, ordering the U.S. investigators to leave the country. After returning to Washington, the U.S. chief investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote a newly disclosed memo to State Department officials saying Blackwater had created "an environment full of liability and negligence" and that "Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law."

The documents reveal that the U.S. government was aware of many troubles at Blackwater before the Nisour Square shooting, which the Times calls a "watershed moment in the American occupation of Iraq." The company's founder, Erik Prince, sold the company in 2010. The Times reports that a spokesperson for Prince said Prince "had never been told about the matter."

Four Blackwater guards involved in the incident are currently on trial in Washington. The U.S. government previously tried taking the case to an American court in 2009, but the charges were dismissed.