Blackwater Guards Head to Court
Five Blackwater security contractors facing lengthy prison terms for their alleged involvement in a deadly shooting in Baghdad in 2007 that left 17 dead appeared in court today, pleading not guilty to manslaughter and assault charges.
But the case is mired in controversy over the release of radio logs, obtained by The Associated Press, that appear to show a frenzied eight minutes in which the guards repeatedly reported incoming gunfire from insurgents and Iraqi police.
A sixth security guard, Jeremy P. Ridgeway of California, has already pleaded guilty to one count each of manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and aiding and abetting in connection with the case and has agreed to cooperate with investigators.
The remaining Blackwater security guards face 30-year prison terms if convicted of the charges.
The Sept. 16, 2007, shooting in Baghdad left 17 people dead after an armed standoff between Blackwater and Iraqi security forces.
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.
And the radio logs obtained by the AP indicate the guards faced small-arms fire during the incident. A defense attorney released the documents, which are purported to be a real-time account of what happened.
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.
Ridgeway has told prosecutors that Blackwater's "Raven 23" convoy opened fire on unarmed cvilians using automatic weapons and grenade launchers. One victim was shot in the chest, while standing in the street with his hands up, according to court documents.
He said he personally killed an unarmed passenger in a white Kia sedan -- identified as Dr. Al-Khazali -- with his M-4 assault rifle. At least one member of the convoy later used a grenade launcher to blow up the vehicle, killing Al-Khazali's son, Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia'y.
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.
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.
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.
By Derek Kravitz |
January 6, 2009; 4:56 PM ET
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