[Guest post by DRJ]
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina today dismissed all manslaughter and weapons charges against five Blackwater security guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi citizens in Baghdad in 2007, citing government overreaching:
“Justice Department prosecutors improperly built their case on sworn statements that had been given under a promise of immunity. Urbina said the government’s explanations were “contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility.”
Apparently the court found the government compelled the guards to provide evidence against themselves in the equivalent of a Garrity interview. In Garrity v New Jersey, the United States Supreme Court “held that when a police officer is coerced, under threat of discipline, to give a statement, the officer is immunized against the use of the statement in a subsequent criminal prosecution.” The Blackwater case involved a similar situation:
“After the shooting, the State Department ordered the guards to explain what happened.
Investigators promised the men that their statements were to be used only for the internal inquiry and would not be introduced in a criminal case. Such limited immunity deals are common in police departments so officers involved in shootings cannot hold up internal investigations by refusing to cooperate.
The deal meant that prosecutors had to build their case without using those statements. Urbina said the Justice Department failed to do so. Prosecutors read those statements, reviewed them in the investigation and used them to get search warrants, Urbina said.”
Judge Urbina did not reach the issue of whether the shooting was proper.
This incident was very controversial in Baghdad and the Iraqi government pressed to have charges filed in Iraq instead of the United States. This dismissal will likely result in a backlash from Iraqis.
UPDATE 1/1/2010 — Outrage from Iraq:
“The Iraqi government vowed to pursue the case, which became a source of contention between the U.S. and the Iraqi government. Many Iraqis also held up the judge’s decision as proof of what they’d long believed: U.S. security contractors were above the law.”