Local News

Legal scrutiny could blemish Blackwater

Posted December 8, 2008

— Blackwater Worldwide security guards opened machine gun fire on innocent, surrendering Iraqis and launched a grenade into a girls' school during a gruesome Baghdad shooting last year, prosecutors said Monday in announcing manslaughter charges against five guards.

A sixth guard admitted in a plea deal to killing at least one Iraqi in the 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nisoor Square. Seventeen Iraqis were killed in the assault, which roiled U.S. diplomacy with Iraq and fueled anti-American sentiment abroad.

The five guards surrendered Monday and were due to ask a federal judge in Utah for bail.

The company, based in Moyock, N.C., is not named in the criminal case, but faces additional legal problems.

Victims' families are suing the company for the 2007 shootings that claimed the lives of 17 Iraqi civilians.

Blackwater is the largest security contractor in Iraq and provides heavily armed guards for diplomats. Since last year's shooting, the company has been a flash point in the debate over how heavily the U.S. relies on contractors in war zones.

"it's going to cost them a lot of money, even if they win all the cases," Duke professor Scott Silliman, an expert in national security law, said. "You're talking about litigation that could go on for years."

Blackwater has also been under investigation by the federal courts in Raleigh for weapons smuggling. It's the type of controversy Silliman said is tough to rebound from.

"It's going to smear, to some extent, the image of Blackwater," he said.

Retired Lt. General Robert Springer suggested Monday that the legal issues could hurt business for Blackwater, the largest employer in Camden County.

"I don't know that they'll continue to get all these high-powered government contracts," he said.

Blackwater provides up to 600 local jobs in Moyock and pays $143,000 annually in property taxes.

Even if demand for contractors shrinks, Springer said, Blackwater will have plenty of business. "We just don't have enough military men and women to do all of these things," he said.

Blackwater issued a statement of support for the five guards Monday, and said it was "extremely disappointed and surprised" that one of the guards had pleaded guilty.

The indicted guards: Donald Ball, a former Marine from West Valley City, Utah; 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, are charged with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and with using a machine gun to commit a crime of violence, a charge that carries a 30-year minimum sentence.

"The tragic events in Nisoor Square on Sept. 16 of last year were shocking and a violation of basic human rights," FBI Assistant Director Joseph Persichini said.

Witnesses said the contractors opened fire unprovoked. Women and children were among the victims and the shooting left the square littered with blown-out cars.

Blackwater says its guards were ambushed by insurgents while responding to a car bombing.

"We think it's pure and simple a case of self-defense," defense attorney Paul Cassell said Monday as the guards were being booked. "Tragically people did die."

The shootings caused an uproar, and the fledgling Iraqi government in Baghdad wanted Blackwater, which protects U.S. State Department personnel, expelled from the country. It also sought the right to prosecute the men in Iraqi courts.

"The killers must pay for their crime against innocent civilians. Justice must be achieved so that we can have rest from the agony we are living in," said Khalid Ibrahim, a 40-year-old electrician who said his 78-year-old father, Ibrahim Abid, died in the shooting. "We know that the conviction of the people behind the shooting will not bring my father to life, but we will have peace in our minds and hearts."

Defense attorneys accused the Justice Department of bowing to Iraqi pressure .

"We are confident that any jury will see this for what it is: a politically motivated prosecution to appease the Iraqi government," said defense attorney Steven McCool, who represents Ball.

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  • SWEET-N-SOUR Dec 9, 2008

    WEll nor you or I were there so who really knows, but if found guilty they should pay to the fullest, blackwater is not above the law regardless where they are located.

  • davidgnews Dec 8, 2008

    Right or wrong, this still underscores the rampant corruption by no-bid contract companies that are lining their pockets from 'the war effort.'

  • this is fdup Dec 8, 2008

    this is bull.....I might buy putting them up for trial for manslaughter although I have serious questions about the why they are in the U.S. courts but this use of a machine gun charge makes the whole thing stink. Everyone has a machine gun there!I f I place a bet in a casino in another country are you going to charge me in N.C. for gambling?

  • bettyboopr2 Dec 8, 2008

    Since my first post didn't make it I guess I will tone it down a bit. THEY DID THEIR JOB PROTECTING US AND OUR FREEDOMS!!!

  • Worland Dec 8, 2008

    Contrary to the moronic opinion of the author, I have no doubt Black Water will continue to receive lucrative government contracts. The Fed's recently swept aside local gov't opposition to Black Water's new Californian training center. Black Water is the sole source for much of the goverment's specialized training. I don't think they're too worried.

    This trial is a pure political game. Put on a dog & pony show for the Iraqis and get on with business as usual.

  • applesmith Dec 8, 2008

    ".223 WHOLES LEAVE SILENT SOULS" They got he job done you do not hear the "DIPLOMAT" they were protecting complaining.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Dec 8, 2008

    These guys are being Nifonged to appease the Iraqi government.

  • cpd505 Dec 8, 2008

    Having been trained at Blackwater and the level of its operators they did not kill for no reason.

  • wllmbraskey Dec 8, 2008

    This is the equivalent of a "Lynch Mob" and Blackwater is the scapegoat. All the sins of the American Infedels bundled up into a nice politically correct package. There will be no fair trial because there should not even be a trial.

  • haggis basher Dec 8, 2008

    "but giving contractors carte blanche to murder at will in the name of "self-defense" isn't the answer either."
    Perhaps, but I don't see a US jury convicting them. They thought they were under attack, it doesn't really matter if they were or not and its not provable anyways that they weren't.
    War is hell and bad things happen.
    In a place and time where any person or car was a threat, things like this were bound to happen.

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