Friday, November 20, 2009
Feds move to drop charges against one Blackwater guard
What does it mean that the U.S. Justice Department wants to dismiss criminal charges against one of five former Blackwater security guards facing multiple manslaughter charges for their roles in a 2007 shooting incident in Baghdad in which 14 civilians were killed? Well, it might mean very little, since the charges would be dropped without prejudice and could be refiled later in the case. More likely, it means that a second guard, Nicholas Slatten of Sparta, Tenn., has agreed to give testimony against the four others who still face charges stemming from the shooting of civilians by a private security company hired by the U.S. military to protect diplomats in Baghdad threatened by unrest in the years following the 2003 invasion. The five former guards pleaded not guilty to 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 attempted manslaughter counts and one weapons violation in January. A sixth Blackwater guard, Jeremy P. Ridgeway, 34, of Fallbrook, Calif., pleaded guilty to fewer charges in 2008 in a deal for his testimony, according to the Reuters international news service. The Nisour Square shooting helped to sour relations between Iraq's elected government and the Bush administration, which had destroyed the former government of Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Subsequent investigation found Hussein's government played no role in the 2001 attacks. The incident prompted Iraq's government to refuse to renew Blackwater's authority to operate there, and the company's military contract was not renewed in May. However, Blackwater guards have continued to operate in Iraq while replacement contractors are being sought. The shooting also reignited a debate over the use of private contractors to fulfill duties traditionally handled by soldiers at substantially lower costs. The motion to dismiss charges against Slatten was filed under seal, and no explanation was offered publicly, Reuters said. "While we never comment on sealed motions, it is a long-standing legal principle that charges against a defendant dismissed without prejudice allow the government to recharge the defendant at a later date if the evidence warrants," said Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman. The shooting happened on Sept. 16, 2007, as guards escorted a diplomatic convoy through a crowded Baghdad intersection, Reuters said.