Iraqi government plans to file suit against Blackwater guards
The Iraqi government announced on Monday that it will file a civil lawsuit against Blackwater Worldwide, a move that comes on the heels of last week's decision by a federal judge to dismiss all criminal charges against five of the firm's security guards who were involved in a deadly 2007 shooting in Baghdad.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters that his government rejects the Dec. 31 ruling by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina dropping all charges in the death of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisur Square. Nearly two dozen bystanders also were injured in the incident.
"We have done what is necessary to protect our citizens and to punish those who committed the crime, and we have formed committees and filed a lawsuit against Blackwater security firm either in America or Iraq," Maliki said. "We won't abandon our right to punish this firm."
Maliki's office said it will ask the Justice Department to appeal Urbina's decision. Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said, "We're reviewing the opinion and considering our options."
The Iraqi government also is beginning the process of removing current and former Blackwater personnel still operating in the country.
Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told CNN in an interview on Sunday that Blackwater employees -- even those working for other contractors -- will not be allowed to stay in the country. The decree also would affect any subsidiary or related companies, he said.
"Instructions have been given to check if there is any Blackwater member [in Iraq]," al-Dabbagh said. "I advise him to leave Iraq and not to stay in Iraq anymore."
The Iraqi government's anger toward Blackwater, which changed its name last year to Xe Services, has been simmering for years, but boiled over last week when Urbina dismissed charges against five guards involved in the 2007 shooting.
Urbina found that the U.S. government's case against the five guards was based largely on statements that the defendants, under threat of job loss and under the promise of immunity, provided to State Department investigators, thereby violating their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
"In their zeal to bring charges against the defendants in this case, the prosecutors and investigators aggressively sought out statements the defendants had been compelled to make to government investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and in the subsequent investigation," Urbina wrote in a 90-page decision. "In so doing, the government's trial team repeatedly disregarded the warnings of experienced, senior prosecutors assigned to the case."
On Sept. 16, 2007, the five Blackwater guards were protecting a State Department convoy in western Baghdad when shooting erupted at a crowded intersection. The guards claim they were fired upon, but the Iraqi government and local witnesses said the shootings were unprovoked.
The defendants, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard, Donald Ball and Nicholas Slatten, had been charged with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.
A sixth guard involved in the incident, Jeremy Ridgeway, pleaded guilty in 2008 to voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter and was prepared to testify against his former co-workers.
Dozens of Iraqis have filed a separate civil suit against the firm and its employees. Those cases will be heard before a court in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Castigating the prosecution, Urbina said the government used the defendants' compelled statements to guide its charging decisions, formulate its theory of the case, develop investigatory leads and obtain an indictment.
"The explanations offered by the prosecutors and investigators in an attempt to justify their actions and persuade the court that they did not use the defendants' compelled testimony were all too often contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility," the judge wrote. "In short, the government has utterly failed to prove that it made no impermissible use of the defendants' statements or that such use was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt."
Joseph Yorio, president and chief executive officer of Xe Services, said in a statement the company was relieved by Urbina's decision.
"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," Yorio said. "Like the people they were protecting, our Xe professionals were working for a free, safe and democratic Iraq for the Iraqi people. With this decision, we feel we can move forward and continue to assist the United States in its mission to help the people of Iraq and Afghanistan find a peaceful, democratic future."
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Xe Services, said the company had no comment on Maliki's statements.
In response to the shooting, the Iraqi government stripped Blackwater of its license to work in the country. And in May, State declined to renew Blackwater's private security contract in Iraq.