New charges in Blackwater shootings
A new grand-jury indictment charges the men in an attack in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, including women and children.
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Thursday brought fresh charges against four former Blackwater Worldwide security contractors, resurrecting an internationally charged case over a deadly 2007 shooting in Baghdad.
A new grand-jury indictment charges the men, who were hired to guard U.S. diplomats, in an attack that inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad and heightened diplomatic sensitivities during the war.
The guards are accused of opening fire in Nisoor Square on Sept. 16, 2007. Seventeen Iraqi civilians died, including women and children. Prosecutors say the heavily armed Blackwater convoy launched an unprovoked attack using sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers. Defense lawyers argue their clients are innocent men who were ambushed by Iraqi insurgents.
The guards were charged with manslaughter and weapons violations in 2008, but a federal judge in 2009 dismissed the case, ruling the Justice Department withheld evidence from a grand jury and violated the guards’ constitutional rights.
The dismissal outraged many Iraqis. Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Baghdad in 2010, expressed his “personal regret” for the shootings in declaring that the U.S. would appeal the court decision.
A federal appeals court reinstated the case in 2011, saying now-retired Judge Ricardo Urbina had wrongly interpreted the law. Prosecutors again presented evidence before a grand jury, and U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth gave the Justice Department until Monday to decide what to do with the case.
The defendants include Dustin Heard, a former Marine from Knoxville, Tenn.; Evan Liberty, a former Marine from Rochester, N.H.; Nick Slatten, a former Army sergeant from Sparta, Tenn., and Paul Slough, an Army veteran from Keller, Texas.
Slatten is charged with 14 counts of voluntary manslaughter and 16 counts of attempt to commit manslaughter; Liberty and Heard are charged with 13 counts of voluntary manslaughter and 16 counts of attempt to commit manslaughter; and Slough is charged with 13 counts of voluntary manslaughter and 18 counts of attempt to commit manslaughter. All four were also charged with one count of using and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
The men face lengthy prison sentences if convicted.
The defendants are charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, a statute that allows the government to prosecute certain government employees and military contractors for crimes committed overseas.
Prosecutors last month agreed to dismiss their case against a fifth guard, Donald Ball, a retired Marine from West Valley City, Utah. A sixth guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, of California, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
The company formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide is under new ownership and is headquartered in Virginia. It had changed its name to Xe Services, but the company was sold to a group of investors who then changed the name to Academi. Blackwater founder Erik Prince is no longer affiliated with the company.