Charges Coming Soon in Blackwater Shooting
Update: Five Guards Charged
The Post's Del Quentin Wilber reports: The guards, all former U.S. military personnel, were working as security contractors for the State Department, assigned to protect U.S. diplomats and other non-military officials in Iraq. Federal prosecutors obtained the indictment Thursday. It has been sealed, and prosecutors declined to comment on any aspect of the investigation. The exact charges could not be determined.
Blackwater security contractors involved in a deadly shooting in Iraq in 2007 could potentially face lengthy prison terms if convicted of manslaughter and assault charges that could be filed as early as next week.
The Sept. 16, 2007, shooting in Baghdad left 17 people dead after an armed standoff between Blackwater and Iraqi security forces.
The Associated Press quotes sources close to the case as saying that the Justice Department may seek 30-year prison sentences under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which institutes stiff sentences when machine guns are used in any crime, drug-related or not.
However, prosecutors face a major legal obstacle in charging Blackwater guards with overseas crimes. The law they will use is meant to cover soldiers and military contractors. But Blackwater works for the State Department, not the Pentagon.
In his new book, "Big Boy Rules: America's Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq," The Post's Steve Fainaru wrote that the killings at the crowded Baghdad traffic circle first brought "the magnitude of this private war" to the public.
"With its AH-6 'Little Bird' helicopters flitting around Baghdad, their door gunners training machine guns on the populace, and an array of offensive weapons, Blackwater was already a force unto itself," Fainaru wrote. "But its marriage to the State Department shielded it."
Witnesses and the Iraqi government insisted that the shooting by the private guards, many of whom are highly-decorated military veterans, was unprovoked. Blackwater claims that its guards returned fire only after they were shot at.
The shooting occurred shortly after noon in Nisoor Square as three Blackwater teams escorted a military team back to Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone. A car bomb detonated, followed by the armed standoff.
Senior Iraqi officials repeatedly complained to U.S. officials about the North Carolina firm's alleged involvement in the deaths of numerous Iraqis, but the Americans took little action to regulate Blackwater.
A U.S. official familiar with the investigation told The Post at the time that participants in the shooting reported at least one of Blackwater guards drawing a weapon on his colleagues and screaming for them to "stop shooting."
The Justice Department later sent FBI agents to Iraq to investigate what happened. Blackwater, which is not the subject of the investigation, has cooperated with investigators.
Prosecutors have questioned dozens of witnesses in the case, including the father of a young boy killed in the shooting. The State Department promised several Blackwater guards limited immunity in exchange for their sworn statements and the contractors are immune from Iraqi law under a 2003 U.S. occupation decree.
The State Department renewed its contract with Blackwater in April.
By Derek Kravitz |
December 5, 2008; 7:33 PM ET
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