[Guest post by DRJ]
Blackwater guards involved in a 2007 Baghdad shooting that killed Iraqi civilians may be prosecuted in the U.S. under a drug law that carries a 30-year mandatory sentence for using machine guns in the commission of a crime:
“Charges could be announced as early as Monday for the shooting, which left 17 civilians dead and strained U.S. relations with the fledgling Iraqi government. Prosecutors have been reviewing a draft indictment and considering manslaughter and assault charges for weeks. A team of prosecutors returned to the grand jury room Thursday and called no witnesses.
Though drugs were not involved in the Blackwater shooting, the Justice Department is pondering the use of a law, passed at the height of the nation’s crack epidemic, to prosecute the guards. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 law calls for 30-year prison terms for using machine guns to commit violent crimes of any kind, whether drug-related or not.”
Blackwater has cooperated with the investigation but maintains its employees responded appropriately to an ambush by insurgents:
“The company has consistently said that we do not believe the individuals acted unlawfully,” company spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said Thursday. “If it is determined that an individual acted improperly, Blackwater would support holding that person accountable.”
I assume this is being prosecuted in the U.S. in part to avoid Iraqi efforts to try the Americans in Iraqi courts. I agree with the sentiment but the article points out it’s “unclear on whether contractors can be charged in the U.S., or anywhere, for crimes committed overseas.”
This also bothers me for two other reasons. First, it concerns me that the prosecutors are using weapons laws to provide for enhanced punishment of persons authorized to use the guns they were carrying for military or law enforcement purposes (or, in this case, for authorized quasi-military or law enforcement-related purposes in a war zone). This reminds me of the Ramos-Compean prosecution, and I think that was a poor prosecutorial decision. Second, this isn’t a drug case, and using the law to treat it like one sends a questionable message.