WASHINGTON, Feb. 7 — The Army announced during a House oversight committee hearing on Wednesday that it would withhold $19.6 million from the Halliburton Company after recently discovering that the contractor had hired the company Blackwater USA to provide armed security guards in Iraq, a potential breach of its government contract.
The Army has said that its contracts with Halliburton, which has a five-year, $16 billion deal to support American military operations in Iraq, generally barred the company and its subcontractors from using private armed guards. But in a statement, Halliburton disagreed with the Army’s interpretation and suggested that there was nothing to prohibit Halliburton’s subcontractors from hiring such guards.
The announcement came during a hearing of the House Government Oversight Committee that included emotional testimony about the killing of four Blackwater employees in Falluja, Iraq, in 2004.
In an e-mail message made public in the hearing and written only hours before the four were killed, another Blackwater worker told the company to end the “smoke and mirror show” and provide its employees in the war zone with adequate weapons and armored vehicles.
“I need ammo,” the worker, Tom Powell, said in an e-mail message dated March 30, 2004, to supervisors at Blackwater, which is based in North Carolina. “I need Glocks and M4s — all the client body armor you got,” he wrote. “Guys are in the field with borrowed stuff and in harm’s way.”
Mr. Powell said he had requested heavily armored vehicles “from the beginning, and from my understanding, an order is still pending.”
“Why? I ask,” he added.