Nissour Square Charges Against Blackwater Thugs Reopened

Posted on April 30, 2011

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Many commenters saw the hand of a reluctant Justice Department self-sabotaging prosecutions of Blackwater guards in the Nissour Square Massacre.  Be that as it may, the DOJ has successfully revived the prosecutions, one bit of good news from the inept leadership of Eric Holder. From the NYT story last week:

A federal appeals court on Friday reopened the criminal case against four former American military contractors accused of manslaughter in connection with a shooting that killed at least 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

Criminal charges against the former employees of Blackwater Worldwide had been dismissed in December 2009 by a federal judge in Washington, who criticized the Justice Department for its handling of the case and ruled that prosecutors had relied on tainted evidence.

The three-judge appeals panel disagreed with that decision, and sent the case back on Friday, ordering Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of Federal District Court to review the evidence against each defendant individually.

“We find that the district court’s findings depend on an erroneous view of the law,” the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled. The appeals judges called on the lower court to determine “as to each defendant, what evidence — if any — the government presented against him that was tainted as to him,” and whether that was enough to justify throwing out the charges.

The former guards affected by the ruling are Evan S. Liberty of Rochester, N.H.; Donald W. Ball of West Valley City, Utah; and Dustin L. Heard of Knoxville, Tenn., all of whom had served with the Marines before joining Blackwater; and Paul A. Slough from Keller, Tex., who had been in the Army.

A fifth guard had also been indicted, but the charges against him were dropped by the Justice Department before Judge Urbina dismissed the case.

The appeals court ruling was a victory for the Justice Department, which had been bruised by Judge Urbina’s ruling taking it to task for an overzealous prosecution.

“We’re pleased with the ruling and assessing the next steps,” the department spokesman, Dean Boyd, said Friday. Defense lawyers involved in the case did not respond to requests for comment.

The shootings, in the middle of traffic in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, left at least 17 Iraqi civilians dead and set off an anti-American political firestorm in Iraq and an international debate over the role of private security contractors in modern war zones. The Blackwater guards were accused of firing wildly and indiscriminately from their convoy into other cars and at Iraqi civilians. The guards defended their actions, saying they were responding to fire from insurgents.

The Nisour Square shootings became a watershed event in the Iraq war, and led the Iraqi government to demand greater sovereignty and control over foreign contractors operating in the country. The Baghdad government later demanded and won the right to subject foreign contractors to Iraqi law, while the United States government grudgingly began to impose greater curbs on the freewheeling activities of the personnel guarding American diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The earlier dismissal of the charges against the guards, who were indicted in 2008, was met with angry protests in Iraq, while Friday’s action pleased some in Baghdad.

“This new decision has brought optimism and happiness back to me,” said Talib Mutlak, who was injured in the Nisour Square shooting. “This is a victory for the blood of martyrs and injured people who were affected by Blackwater.”

There’s a legal analysis here, for those who care about such things. I won’t pretend to understand it all, but I do think that the vehemence shown by the DOJ, and the contrary to conventional wisdom reinstatement of charges, show an Obama regime eager to show that it can go after cronies and corruption, and not just excel in the prosecution of Bradley Manning.

Again, not to make too much of what may be coincidence, but this same week saw the announcement in Politico that the DOJ had dropped charges against Thomas Tamm, who blew the whistle on the Bush regime’s warrantless wiretapping program. But oddly enough, the charges had actually been dropped some time last year. Try as you might, you won’t find anything that triggers the emergence of this story, there’s no direct quote from the DOJ nor from Tamm. The story virtually appears from nowhere with no triggering event in the same week that it’s announced that Manning’s court martial will proceed.