Monday, December 8, 2008

Blackwater Worldwide gets to walk away

The indictments are in. Five Blackwater Worldwide security guards were charged Monday with multiple counts of manslaughter that could earn them decades in prison if they're convicted of shooting unarmed civilians in Baghdad's Nisoor Square in 2007. The five men surrendered to authorities after the indictments were unsealed, the Reuters international news service said. Blackwater, the North Carolina contractor that was hired by the State Department to protect diplomats and others in Iraq after the 2003 invasion and which presumably was responsible for training and equipping its employees, was not accused of any crimes. A sixth guard has pleaded guilty to lesser charges and is believed to be providing testimony to prosecutors. The guards were escorting a convoy of diplomats through a crowded Baghdad intersection when they claim they came under attack and opened fire, killing 14 and wounding 20 civilians. But a yearlong FBI investigation was unable to turn up any evidence that anybody was firing except the Blackwater guards, Reuters said. "The government alleges in the documents unsealed today that at least 34 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, were killed or injured without justification or provocation by these Blackwater security guards in the shooting at Nisoor Square," said Patrick Rowan, assistant attorney general for national security, according to Reuters. Blackwater, for its part, said its employees acted within the scope of their authority. "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," the firm said. Brent Hatch, a lawyer on the legal team representing the guards, said the men were innocent. "They were hired as State Department contractors to protect State government officials," Hatch told reporters in Salt Lake City, where the guards surrendered. "They did their job as they were contracted to do, as they were required to do, and as the State Department asked them to do it." Arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C.

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