Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Blackwater Guards Charged with Murder of Innocent Iraqis

On Monday, the Justice Department unsealed an indictment of five former Blackwater security guards on charges of voluntary manslaughter, attempt to commit manslaughter, and weapons violations.

On September 16, 2007, the Blackwater guards in the indictment we involved in a shooting in a Baghdad square that left 17 Iraqis dead. Blackwater International said its guards were protecting a U.S. diplomatic convoy when they came under attack from armed insurgents. The guards returned fire.

An Iraqi investigation called the killings "premeditated murder" and accused the guards of firing on civilians indiscriminately. The first U.S. soldiers to arrive on the scene told military investigators they found no evidence the contractors were fired upon.

Blackwater USA has been called the largest private army in the world but little is known about how it operates. The company has a thousand highly trained and well armed security specialists on the ground in Iraq alone, hired by the U.S. government to protect American officials.

Blackwater has maintained the innocence of its former employees:
"Based on the information available to us, we understand that these individuals acted within the rules set forth for them by the government and that no criminal violations occurred. [There have been a number of] misguided assumptions and generalizations that surrounded this unfortunate incident. ... [our] work has been mischaracterized and all of our personnel unfairly maligned."

Blackwater Founder Erik Prince on "60 Minutes"

A CNN.com report cites the complexity of this case for the Justice Department:

The complex legal case has been dogged by difficulties and may present a major challenge to federal prosecutors.

Among the potential problems is that the law under which the charges are expected to be brought covers contractors working for the U.S. military, but the Blackwater guards were contracted by the State Department. Some independent legal experts question whether U.S. courts have jurisdiction in this case.

Also muddying the waters are alleged assurances of immunity given to the guards by State Department diplomatic security agents investigating the incident before the FBI got involved.

The State Department said its agents did not offer blanket immunity from criminal prosecution but only promised that statements the guards made on the scene could not be used against them in any prosecution.

But when the investigation was turned over to the Justice Department to examine possible criminal activity, FBI agents discovered some guards believed they were immune from prosecution and therefore refused to be interviewed again, complicating the FBI probe.

The shooting heightened tensions between U.S. and Iraqi government officials and contributed to a protracted debate over the extent of immunity that U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors have from Iraqi laws.

Security contractors had immunity from Iraqi law under a provision put in place in the early days of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. But starting next year, under a U.S.-Iraq security agreement that Baghdad approved last week, Iraq will have the "primary right to exercise jurisdiction" over U.S. contractors and their employees.

The Blackwater Five, all decorated military veterans who had served the United States in trouble spots around the world and who were employed by Blackwater Worldwide, the largest security contractor in Iraq , surrendered together at a federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, Utah, where their lawyers accused the government of overstepping their authority and of tarnishing their clients’ records of honorable service.

Mark Hulkower, a lawyer for one of the defendants, said the men surrendered in Utah, a relatively conservative, pro-military area, because they hoped to find a jury pool where “people are more sympathetic to the experiences of coming under enemy fire.”

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The State Department, which employed Blackwater to protect U.S. diplomats and other employees, renewed Blackwater's contract this year over strong objections from the Iraqi government.

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plez sez: military stuff really isn't in the bailiwick of plezWorld, since i'm pretty much a pacifist when it comes to launching attacks on sovereign nations. i guess that's why this particular story has my interest.

i saw the "60 Minutes" story about blackwater in october 2007. i still don't understand why the us government is paying untold millions to some corporation to provide "soldiers" in combat when our us troops are underpaid, underfunded, under-equipped, and unappreciated. and then the part of the blackwater arrangement that really reeks was their immunity from iraqi laws while they were over there shooting at anything that moved.

so i have no doubt that these "goons" opened fire into a crowd of iraqis with their sub-machine guns, killing just about anything that moved... since they weren't accountable to any authority in iraq or in the us. hell, they weren't even contracted to work with the defense department, they were a shadow army for the state department!

One blogger wrote: "Blackwater is the new mercenary army accountable to nobody except the corporations and governments who hire them. Keep in mind that Blackwater is now training hundreds of police departments across the US including the Los Angeles Police Department."

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instead of utah, these guys should be sent back to the jurisdiction where the CRIME was committed. and let the iraqi government deal with them in a manner of their choosing ("an eye for an eye" sounds good to me!). there is a sliver of hope that justice is done and these five goons are relieved of their liberty... or more!

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The blogger Hollywood Liberal chimes in about the Blackwater incident.

Read the CBSNews.com article that accompanies the "60 Minutes" story about Blackwater International.

Read the New York Times article about the Blackwater indictment.

Read the CNN.com article about the Blackwater guards charged with murder.

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