Blackwater Guards Surrender In Utah 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.
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Blackwater Guards Surrender In Utah

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Blackwater Guards Surrender In Utah

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Blackwater Guards Surrender In Utah

Blackwater Guards Surrender In Utah

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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.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. Coming up, the White House says it's made progress with Congress in completing a rescue package for the auto industry. We'll have details coming up.

BRAND: First though, the mission was defensive. They were to protect American diplomats. But on a September day last year, guards with a private security firm, Blackwater, opened fire on civilians in a crowded public square in Baghdad.

COHEN: 17 people were killed. Many more were injured, none of them armed. That is the allegation in an indictment unsealed by the Justice Department today.

BRAND: The Blackwater case has raised questions about the role of private contractors, also about how the Justice Department can prosecute Americans accused of committing crimes in another country. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has been following this case, and she's here now. Dina, tell us more about the indictments, what's in them.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the Justice Department charged five men with 14 counts of voluntary manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter, and also with the charge of using automatic weapons in committing a violent crime. And there's a sixth Blackwater guy who was there as well, and he apparently pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter and one count of attempted manslaughter.

BRAND: Is he cooperating with the prosecution?

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's a good question. That's what we think is going on.

BRAND: All right, there's a question, though, whether the Justice Department really has jurisdiction in this case, given that these crimes were allegedly committed - when they were committed, they were committed in Iraq.

TEMPLE-RASTON: We're not entirely sure that they've completely resolved that issue. We won't know that, actually, until this actually goes to trial. This is the first case to be filed under a new version of MEJA.

MEJA is the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act. And that allows the U.S. Justice Department, and I'm just going to quote here, "to have jurisdiction over non-military contractors who provide service in support of the mission of the Department of Defense overseas," close quote.

The reason why I'm quoting that is because there's a real question as to whether or not the Blackwater employees fall under that kind of rubric because the Blackwater security contractors were working for the State Department, not the Department of Defense, and their defense attorneys are really likely to file a motion to dismiss the case based on the fact that their clients weren't working for the Department of Defense.

BRAND: Now, the indictments were announced in Washington, but the guards, I understand, turned themselves in in Utah. Why is that? Why Utah?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, only one of the men of the five is from Utah, and he might be trying to get the venue for the case changed to Utah, where a jury might be more sympathetic, instead of Washington D.C. But the ploy is unlikely to work. It's hard to change venue like that. And the other four men who are with him have no real Utah connection. Right now, at the moment, it appears that they're all going to be tried as a group, but that's something their lawyers are going to have to discuss, decide.

BRAND: Well, let's talk more about the defense strategy. What are they likely to argue?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, Blackwater has said that their employees began firing into oncoming traffic in this Baghdad traffic circle in self defense. They said that a car rolled forward after they ordered the car to stop, and that they were worried that it was a suicide bomber. And they also are saying that insurgents were firing on them, so they fired back. But defense attorneys I've spoken to said that the defense that they're really likely to focus on is this idea that the Justice Department doesn't have jurisdiction.

BRAND: All right, and also, the company itself, Blackwater, was not charged in this, correct?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Also very important point. They came out with a statement that said, as far as they knew, while they were not privy to everything that the FBI and the Department of Defense and the Iraqi government found in their investigation of the incident, that as far as they knew, their people had followed all the instructions that they were supposed to follow.

BRAND: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. She's been following the news that the Justice Department has indicted five Blackwater security guards for the 2007 shooting down of civilians in Iraq. Dina, thank you very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

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Blackwater Guards Charged With Manslaughter

Five American security guards charged in connection with the shooting deaths of 14 civilians in Baghdad last year surrendered to federal agents in Utah on Monday.

The Justice Department, which unsealed the indictments on Monday, said the five Blackwater Worldwide guards fired a grenade into a girls' school, shot an unarmed civilian point-blank as he held up his hands and used machine guns on bystanders.

The five guards, who were contracted by the U.S. to protect State Department personnel, surrendered Monday and were due to ask a federal judge in Utah for bail. A sixth Blackwater guard has admitted to killing at least one Iraqi in a plea deal.

"None of these victims was an insurgent, and many were shot while inside of civilian vehicles that were attempting to flee," prosecutors wrote in court documents. "One victim was shot in his chest while standing in the street with his hands up."

The five were charged with 14 counts of manslaughter and 20 counts of attempted manslaughter. They are also charged with using a machine gun to commit a crime of violence, a charge that carries a 30-year minimum sentence.

The incident occurred last year in a busy Baghdad intersection known as Nisoor Square. At the time, witnesses said the security guards opened fire unprovoked. Women and children were among the victims, and the shooting left the square littered with blown-out cars.

The shootings increased tensions between Washington and the fledgling Iraqi government in Baghdad. The Iraqi government sought the right to prosecute the men in Iraqi courts.

The guards who surrendered in Salt Lake City were reportedly hoping to get the case moved to Utah, where they think they'll find sympathetic jurors.

From staff and wire reports

Blackwater Guards Indicted For Iraq Shootings

Dina Temple-Raston Talks About The Indictment On 'All Things Considered'

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A grand jury in Washington, D.C., has indicted at least five people who worked for security contractor Blackwater Worldwide for their role in a shooting incident in Baghdad in 2007.

A sixth employee is still in plea negotiations with prosecutors, and those are expected to continue through the weekend. The indictments are expected to be unsealed as early as Monday, when the first five — and possibly the sixth — are expected to be charged with manslaughter or assault.

The grand jury had been investigating the details of the shooting, which left 17 Iraqis dead, for more than a year. The Justice Department sent a draft indictment to a grand jury a couple of weeks ago. That grand jury approved the indictments on Thursday.

Gunfire In A Traffic Circle

On Sept. 16, 2007, a convoy of Blackwater SUVs entered a traffic circle. A short time later, shooting started.

Blackwater has said its employees began firing into oncoming traffic in self-defense — that a car rolled forward after they ordered the driver to stop and they feared an attack from a suicide car bomber. A subsequent FBI inquiry came to the conclusion that the shooting was unprovoked.

A Difficult Investigation

The incident prompted concerns in Iraq and elsewhere that no one would be held accountable. A gray area in Iraqi law raised the possibility that Blackwater might have immunity from prosecution.

Investigating the crime was also troublesome. The FBI eventually went to Iraq, bought some of the burned-out cars in the traffic circle from their Iraqi owners, and shipped them back to the U.S. for analysis.

Because there was no real legal system in Iraq set up to take care of this kind of problem, it was unclear how to hold people accountable and which courts had jurisdiction.

New Rules For Contractors

In the wake of the shooting, with Blackwater in mind, new standards of behavior for contractors are being put into place in Iraq.

Starting Jan. 1, 2009, the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq says U.S. citizens who are contractors in Iraq will be subject to the jurisdiction of Iraqi criminal courts and civil courts.