[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Monday unsealed indictments [text, PDF; DOJ press release] for five Blackwater USA [corporate website; JURIST news archive] guards involved in the September 2007 killings of 17 Iraqi civilians [JURIST report]. The 35-count indictment, which was returned under seal [JURIST report] last Thursday, charges each defendant with 14 counts of voluntary manslaughter, 20 counts of attempt to commit manslaughter, and one count of using and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. This marks the first time that State Department contractors will be prosecuted under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) [text], which allows criminal charges to be filed against contractors working for the Department of Defense. The defendants surrendered to federal authorities in Utah Monday morning. At a press conference, Assistant Attorney General Pat Rowan said [prepared remarks]:
Todays indictment and guilty plea should serve as a reminder that those who engage in unprovoked and illegal attacks on civilians whether during times of conflict or times of peace will be held accountable.Also Monday a guilty plea [text, PDF] was unsealed for a sixth Blackwater security guard. Jeremy Ridgeway pleaded guilty Friday 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, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation into the incident concluded that the shootings were unjustified [JURIST report]. Last month Bush administration officials announced that Iraq security contractors would be losing immunity from Iraqi law under the recently approved [JURIST reports] US Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq.