01 January 2010

Charges against Blackwater contractors thrown out

In Washington on Thursday a federal judge threw out the indictment of five former Blackwater security guards over a shooting in Baghdad in 2007 that left 17 Iraqis dead and about 20 wounded. Read the 31 December New York Times article on this here, and a 3 October 2007 New York Times article on the shooting here.

Investigators concluded that the guards had indiscriminately fired on unarmed civilians in an unprovoked and unjustified assault near a crowded traffic circle at Nisour Square in Baghdad on 16 September 2007.

But in a 90-page opinion, Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of Federal District Court in Washington wrote that in a “reckless violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights” investigators, prosecutors and government witnesses had inappropriately relied on statements that the guards had been compelled to make in debriefings by the State Department shortly after the shootings. The State Department had hired the guards to protect its officials.

Needless to say Blackwater, now operating under the new name Xe, is delighted. On Thursday, the president and chief executive officer of Xe, Joseph Yorio, said:

The company supports the judge’s decision to dismiss the charges. From the beginning, Xe has stood behind the hundreds of brave men who put themselves in harm’s way to protect American diplomats working in Baghdad and other combat zones in Iraq. Like the people they were protecting, our Xe professionals were working for a free, safe and democratic Iraq for the Iraqi people.

A phrase from the Vietnam era comes to mind:

It never happened, and anyway they deserved it.

One can hardly forebear to mention that the Blackwater/Xe “professionals” do not seem to have been working very hard for an Iraq in which Iraqis were particularly safe from them. Reckless disregard for public safety seems too mild a description and unfortunately these particular contractors were working under immunity from Iraqi law, so they cannot be prosecuted in Iraq. The one piece of good news is that the mass shooting eventually led Iraq to insist, during negotiations on a new status of forces agreement in 2008, on a provision that eliminated immunity from Iraqi law for American contractors.

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