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DoJ Bungles Case Against Blackwater Guards In Nissour Square Massacre

graphic by D Sharon Pruitt

graphic by D Sharon Pruitt

A federal judge has dropped all charges in the murder case of five Blackwater security guards accused of killing at least 17 civilians in Nissour Square, Iraq, in a massacre that outraged locals and the US military alike. The ruling cites errors by prosecutors in relying on testimony given to State Department investigators after the shootings, which violated the defendants’ Constitutional rights against self-incrimination.

“In their zeal to bring charges against the defendants . . . the government used compelled statements to guide its charging decisions . . . and ultimately, to obtain the indictment in this case,” the judge wrote in a 90-page opinion.

The efforts of prosecutors and investigators to show that their case did not hinge on compelled testimony “were all too often contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility,” Urbina wrote.

Because the indictment was thrown out on legal grounds, the government could bring an appeal. It could also re-charge the guards, although a new prosecution could be difficult given the judge’s finding that the case was so thoroughly tainted.

You can read Judge Ricardo Urbina’s ruling here. The legal reasoning appears sound.

But that hasn’t stopped officials from the United States and Iraq from condemning the ruling. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who has pending legislation to ban private military contractors from war zones, called the ruling disappointing and said that the Blackwater guards in this case “actually (got) away with murder”. She warned that the ruling would “fuel anti-American sentiment” in Iraq. A Kurdish lawmaker in Iraq said that “The message is these people are protected by the American administration.” A government spokesman threatened a lawsuit:

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the five men had committed a “serious crime” in the September 2007 shooting in Baghdad, which strained U.S.-Iraqi relations and became a symbol for many Iraqis of foreign disregard for local life.

Dabbagh said Iraq may sue the private security company, now known as Xe Services.

“The Iraqi government regrets and is disappointed by the U.S. court’s decision … We have our own investigations and they showed that Blackwater committed a serious crime in the killing of 17 Iraqi citizens,” Dabbagh said.

“The Iraqi government is considering other legal means through which it can sue the Blackwater company,” he added.

Interestingly, Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of US forces in Iraq, was outspoken in his displeasure with the decision.

“Of course we’re upset when we believe that people might have caused a crime and they are not held accountable,” he told reporters in Baghdad, adding the dismissal might create a backlash against other security firms operating in Iraq.

Digby has some very good thoughts on all of this. It’s hard to explain how justice is equally applied when Blackwater guards can (rightly) get acquitted based on improper collection of evidence, but Iraqis can be abused in American prison camps, and other Muslims held indefinitely without charges, and nothing happens.

CommunityThe Bullpen

DoJ Bungles Case Against Blackwater Guards In Nissour Square Massacre

A federal judge has dropped all charges in the murder case of five Blackwater security guards accused of killing at least 17 civilians in Nissour Square, Iraq, in a massacre that outraged locals and the US military alike. The ruling cites errors by prosecutors in relying on testimony given to State Department investigators after the shootings, which violated the defendants’ Constitutional rights against self-incrimination.

“In their zeal to bring charges against the defendants . . . the government used compelled statements to guide its charging decisions . . . and ultimately, to obtain the indictment in this case,” the judge wrote in a 90-page opinion.

The efforts of prosecutors and investigators to show that their case did not hinge on compelled testimony “were all too often contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility,” Urbina wrote.

Because the indictment was thrown out on legal grounds, the government could bring an appeal. It could also re-charge the guards, although a new prosecution could be difficult given the judge’s finding that the case was so thoroughly tainted.

You can read Judge Ricardo Urbina’s ruling here. The legal reasoning appears sound.

But that hasn’t stopped officials from the United States and Iraq from condemning the ruling. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who has pending legislation to ban private military contractors from war zones, called the ruling disappointing and said that the Blackwater guards in this case “actually (got) away with murder”. She warned that the ruling would “fuel anti-American sentiment” in Iraq. A Kurdish lawmaker in Iraq said that “The message is these people are protected by the American administration.” A government spokesman threatened a lawsuit:

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the five men had committed a “serious crime” in the September 2007 shooting in Baghdad, which strained U.S.-Iraqi relations and became a symbol for many Iraqis of foreign disregard for local life.

Dabbagh said Iraq may sue the private security company, now known as Xe Services.

“The Iraqi government regrets and is disappointed by the U.S. court’s decision … We have our own investigations and they showed that Blackwater committed a serious crime in the killing of 17 Iraqi citizens,” Dabbagh said.

“The Iraqi government is considering other legal means through which it can sue the Blackwater company,” he added.

Interestingly, Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of US forces in Iraq, was outspoken in his displeasure with the decision.

“Of course we’re upset when we believe that people might have caused a crime and they are not held accountable,” he told reporters in Baghdad, adding the dismissal might create a backlash against other security firms operating in Iraq.

Digby has some very good thoughts on all of this. It’s hard to explain how justice is equally applied when Blackwater guards can (rightly) get acquitted based on improper collection of evidence, but Iraqis can be abused in American prison camps, and other Muslims held indefinitely without charges, and nothing happens.

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David Dayen

David Dayen