WASHINGTON — Five Blackwater Worldwide security guards have been charged in a September 2007 shooting that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead and raised questions about the U.S. government’s use of security contractors in combat zones, according to two sources familiar with the case.
The guards, all former U.S. military personnel, worked as security contractors for the State Department, assigned to protect U.S. diplomats and other non-military officials in Iraq.
Federal prosecutors obtained the indictment Thursday, and it was sealed.
Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia, declined to comment. The exact nature of the charges could not be determined. The five security guards are expected to surrender to authorities on Monday, the sources said.
Authorities have not publicly identified the guards.
The indictment caps a yearlong probe into the Sept. 16, 2007, shooting as the guards’ convoy arrived in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square.
An Iraqi government investigation concluded that the security contractors opened fire without provocation. And the U.S. military and initial findings by the FBI found Blackwater guards were the only ones who fired weapons that day. Blackwater has said its guards were fired on and acted in self-defense.
A federal grand jury in Washington has heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, including some Iraqis, the sources said.
Blackwater is not a target of the investigation but has been paying the guards’ legal bills, sources said. Anne Tyrrell, a company spokeswoman, said “it would be inappropriate to comment on anything under seal.”
But she added: “Based on the information available to us, however, we do not believe criminal violations occurred.”
“If it is determined that an individual acted improperly,” she said, “Blackwater would support holding that person accountable.”
The news reports now are not recalling it, but we noted at the time of the attacks last year that just weeks later, contractors in Iraq also apparently killed two Armenian Christians—and Iraq’s indigenous Christians have also been massively targeted for “sectarian cleansing” by the jihadis (or, to use the too-flattering media term, “insurgents”).