U.S. to appeal dismissal of Blackwater charges: Biden

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The government will appeal a court decision to dismiss charges against Blackwater security guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007, Vice President Joe Biden said on Saturday.

Iraqi parliament speaker Ayad al-Samarai (R) receives U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) at the Office of the President in Baghdad January 23, 2010. REUTERS/Stringer

The U.S. federal court found last month that the defendants’ constitutional rights had been violated, angering many Iraqis. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government has hired U.S. lawyers to prepare a law suit against Blackwater, a security contractor now called Xe Services.

With Iraqi President Jalal Talabani at his side at a Baghdad news conference, Biden expressed “personal regret” for the violence in a Baghdad traffic circle when Blackwater guards were accused of opening fire on innocent civilians.

The guards said they shot in self-defense in the incident, which occurred during some of the worst sectarian violence in Iraq.

“The United States is determined, determined to hold accountable anyone who commits crimes against the Iraqi people,” Biden said.

“While we fully respect the independence and integrity of the U.S. judicial system, we were disappointed by the judge’s decision to dismiss the indictment, which was based on the way in which some evidence had been acquired,” Biden said.

The U.S. Justice Department would file the appeal next week, he said.

The incident came to symbolize for Iraqis what they saw as foreigners’ disregard for their lives after private guards protecting U.S. personnel were given immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

It also threw a critical light on the U.S. use of private security contractors in Iraq.

U.N. human rights experts have called on Iraq and the United States to ensure that the case is prosecuted, saying it underscores the need for credible oversight of private security companies working for governments in war zones.

Reporting by Jim Loney; Writing by Michael Christie; editing by David Stamp