Saturday, December 6, 2008

Former Blackwater guards reported ready to surrender

If the five former Blackwater Worldwide security guards indicted in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad last year surrender to the FBI Monday as planned, the U.S. State Department will no doubt portray it as the fitting end to a very bad moment. It is neither. Rather, the indictments merely open another chapter in a tragic story that has damaged the reputation and shaken the very foundation of the U.S. military. First off, let's acknowledge that much of the damage caused by the shooting in Nisour Square in the Iraqi capital can never be healed for the families of the dead and will likely never be over for the former U.S. soldiers accused of committing an atrocity. The Sept. 16, 2007, shooting raised the ire of the U.S.-supported Iraqi government and probably was the motivating force behind the recently agreed-upon Status of Forces agreement calling for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by 2011. The shooting also made clear the need for a debate over the use of military contractors in actual conflicts, a discussion that had been scrupulously avoided by the Bush administration. The five former guards, Donald Ball, 26, of West Valley City, Utah; Dustin Heard, 27, of Knoxville, Tennessee.; Evan Liberty, 26, of Rochester, New Hampshire; Nick Slatten, 25, of Sparta, Tennessee; and Paul Slough, 29, of Keller, Texas, will likely face murder or other charges when a federal grand jury indictment is unsealed Monday. A sixth guard is reportedly in plea negotiations. Blackwater has repeatedly claimed the guards were under attack and returning fire when the Iraqis were killed. The Justice Department, State Department and Blackwater declined to comment on the case Friday, according to the Reuters international news service. Reuters also said Friday that the government informed Blackwater Worldwide that the company will not face charges in the shooting.

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