In an incident report, one of the escort soldiers wrote: "I started hearing bullets hit all over our trucks, around my head and door. They were zipping by. We pushed through the flames and kept rolling. It was just hell."
The final tally was grim. Six KBR drivers were dead. Most other drivers were wounded. Besides the kidnapped Hamill, another was missing. Tim Bell now is presumed dead. Two soldiers were killed. A third, Matt Maupin, was captured by insurgents and is still listed as missing. Hamill escaped after nearly three weeks and is back in the U.S.
Only six of the 19 KBR trucks reached the airport. Across Iraq, all 122 convoys sent out by KBR on April 9 were attacked, according to KBR.
Richard was devastated by the loss of his drivers, according to Pulley, who worked closely with him at Anaconda.
"I thought the man was going to break down and cry after he found out he sent all those people out there," Pulley said in a deposition. "He was very upset with himself."
Randy Ross, a driver whose truck limped into the airport on steel rims, his tanker and tires blasted with holes, said he blamed neither KBR nor the military. He blamed Iraq.
"It was a bad day," said Ross, who, like Hamill, is not part of the suit. "It was a very bad day."
After the attack, Peterson stopped the trucks. "No KBR convoys will move tomorrow, 10th April 04. I will inform the military chain of command," he said in an e-mail.
Peterson, now a senior vice president at IAP Worldwide Services, a Florida-based military contractor, declined through a spokesman to comment.
In an e-mail sent to an Army general shortly after the convoy disaster, Peterson asked: "Do you think there was any way we could have predicted the events of 8/9 April, the convoy hits? Do you think we had any real predictive intel or indicators or warnings that were sufficiently articulate enough to conclude that we should have halted movement?"
Pulley left no doubt about his feelings. "KBR security did their job," said security advisor in deposition testimony. "KBR security was overruled."
Communication blamedThe military conducted its own investigation of the April 9 attack. The 280-page report concluded that miscommunications in the military about the danger of the roads had contributed to the casualties.
The investigating officer noted that he was not allowed to inquire into the actions of military officials in the 13th Coscom, because the unit was outside his chain of command.
For the families and drivers of the Good Friday convoy, however, KBR provided few details. The company has never made public its own investigation. Its attorneys have fought to keep internal communications under seal, arguing that they contain national security secrets.
In 2005, the families filed their wrongful death suit against KBR in Texas.
Last September, U.S. Dist. Judge Gray H. Miller dismissed the lawsuit under a rule that bars courts from jurisdiction in cases related to the routine exercise of military orders.
"Is it wise to use civilian contractors in a war zone? Was it wise to send the convoy along the route [to Baghdad airport] on April 9, 2004?" Miller wrote. "Answering either question and the many questions in between would require the court to examine the policies of the executive branch during wartime, a step the court declines to take."
Lawyers for the families contend that KBR retained full authority over its civilian convoys and have appealed.