Justice Department drops charges against Blackwater guard in Iraq shootings

Federal prosecutors indicated Nov. 21 that they will drop manslaughter charges against a Blackwater Worldwide security guard who was involved in the September 2007 shooting incident in Baghdad that killed 17 Iraqis. According to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia, Channing Phillips, a motion was filed under seal to dismiss the charges against Nicholas Slatten. No reason was given as to why the indictment was being dismissed, but prosecutors asked that they be allowed to resubmit the charges at a later date if desired. Since the incident Blackwater has changed its name to Xe Services.

Slatten was one of six guards indicted in December on charges of voluntary manslaughter, attempt to commit manslaughter, and using and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, which carries a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence. Five of the guards pleaded not guilty in January. However, a sixth guard pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter for his role in the same incident. The Blackwater incident caused domestic outrage in Iraq and has prompted legal controversy in the US. In November 2008, a FBI investigation into the incident concluded that the shootings were unjustified. Blackwater ended its operations in Iraq in May. (Jurist, Nov. 22)

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  1. Fine for Blackwater in Iraq killings?
    From the New York Times, Nov. 18:

    Fine and Inquiry Possible for Blackwater Successor
    WASHINGTON — The international security company formerly called Blackwater Worldwide is facing large government fines for unlicensed arms shipments to Iraq, as a key Congressional committee is asking for a separate investigation into whether the company bribed Iraqi officials.
    In talks likely to result in millions of dollars in penalties, executives from the company, now known as Xe Services, are negotiating with government regulators over years of violations of export laws. According to government officials and former company employees, many of the violations involve arms shipments to Iraq, to outfit company security guards operating inside the country.

    In addition, former company officials say that other penalties could result from violations of licensing requirements for the transfer of other forms of military technology and training expertise to foreign countries.

    Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter on Wednesday that his committee was told by a top State Department official that the company had engaged in “broad violations” of export laws and that the unlicensed shipments “went beyond weapons for personal use.”

    In the letter, Senator Kerry asked the State Department’s acting inspector general to begin an investigation into the “continued fitness” of Xe Services to carry out contract work for the State Department. The letter cited a report in The New York Times last week that Blackwater executives had approved of a plan to make secret payments to Iraqi officials after Blackwater employees killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in September 2007.

    Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the company, said, “Only The New York Times would write a story based on a letter from a senator who based his letter on a New York Times story based on the allegations of unnamed sources.”

    The State Department has terminated most of Xe Services’ contracts for work in Iraq, yet continues to pay the company millions of dollars to protect diplomats in Afghanistan. It contends that it has had difficulty finding another company with the experience and the equipment necessary to replace Xe.