[JURIST] US authorities on Thursday announced [press release] charges against two former employees of security firm Blackwater [JURIST news archive] in connection with the May 5 shooting death of two Afghans in Kabul. Justin Cannon and Christopher Drotleff each face 13 counts under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) [text], including two counts of second-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and discharging a firearm during a violent crime, for which they could receive life in prison or the death penalty if convicted. The men are accused of shooting three men, reportedly during a traffic incident [AFP report], while working for Blackwater subsidiary Paravant LLC [corporate website], under contract with the US Department of Defense [official website] to provide weapons training to the Afghan National Army [official website]. Also on Thursday, the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries [official website] responded to an announcement earlier this week by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official website, in Arabic] that his government would file lawsuits against Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, in both US and Iraqi courts for its involvement in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians [JURIST report] in September 2007 in Baghdad's Nisour Square. Chairperson Shaista Shameem called for accountability [UN News Centre report], urging US and Iraqi authorities to cooperate in order to avoid a "situation where no one would be accountable for grave human rights violations," despite Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17 [text, PDF] of 2004, granting immunity from prosecution for foreign contractors operating in Iraq.
On Wednesday, Blackwater settled [JURIST report] seven federal civil lawsuits brought by Iraqi civilians alleging that the company had created a reckless culture [AP report] that resulted in numerous deaths. The settlement came just a week after after a US judge dismissed charges [JURIST report] against five guards indicted for their involvement in the Nisour Square killings. Judge Richardo Urbina of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed [opinion, PDF] voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges against the five guards, finding that statements were obtained in violation of the Constitution. The five defendants pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to manslaughter and weapons charges last January. The guards were indicted [JURIST report] in December 2008 on charges of voluntary manslaughter, attempt to commit manslaughter, and using and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. 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.