U.S. court reinstates Blackwater Iraq shooting case

WASHINGTON Fri Apr 22, 2011 12:21pm EDT

Blackwater Worldwide security guards Donald Ball (L) and Dustin Heard leave the federal courthouse in Washington, January 6, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Blackwater Worldwide security guards Donald Ball (L) and Dustin Heard leave the federal courthouse in Washington, January 6, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge erred in dismissing all charges against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007, an appeals court ruled on Friday.

The unanimous three-judge panel reinstated the charges and sent the case back to the judge for more proceedings, handing a victory to the U.S. Justice Department in a high-profile prosecution dating to 2008.

The five guards were charged with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempt to commit manslaughter and one weapons violation count over a Baghdad shooting that outraged Iraqis and strained ties between the two countries.

The shooting occurred as the private security firm's guards escorted a heavily armed four-truck convoy of U.S. diplomats through the Iraqi capital on September 16, 2007. The guards, U.S. military veterans, were responding to a car bombing when gunfire erupted at a crowded intersection.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina ruled in December 2009 that prosecutors violated the defendants' constitutional rights and the case was tainted by use of statement the guards made to State Department investigators under a threat of job loss.

The appeals court reversed that ruling that the indictment of the guards had been improperly obtained through the use of their compelled statements. It ruled Urbina wrongly interpreted the law.

The appeals court sent the case back to Urbina to determine what evidence, if any, the government presented had been tainted and whether it was harmless.

The defendants -- Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard, Donald Ball and Nicholas Slatten -- were employed by Blackwater Worldwide, which is now known as Xe Services.

Prosecutors have dismissed the charges against Slatten.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said, "We're pleased with the ruling and are assessing the next steps."

The government had argued that whatever knowledge prosecutors and investigators may have had of the defendants' statements to the State Department, they did not make improper use of them in building their case.

A sixth Blackwater guard pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter, and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

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Comments (4)
Revenimus wrote:
About time – justice will always prevail for all innocent victims of war. There is a difference between victims caught/killed in a crossfire and those brutally murdered under the guise of an act of war. Am reading Jeremy Scahill’s book on these events and some of the purported attempts to protect these mercenaries from prosecution. YAY for justice:)

Apr 22, 2011 12:30pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
bartleby wrote:
What a huge mistake it was (Cheney, Rumsfeld) to outsource our military for fun and profit. Time was, mercenary would be arrested in the U.S. and charged with the crime. Now they form the backbone of our defense strategy. The regular serviceman suffers greatly for this.

Apr 22, 2011 2:28pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
HowieF wrote:
At least they can’t blame Obama for this….

Apr 23, 2011 2:28am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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