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Ex-Blackwater contractors convicted of manslaughter for Afghan shootings

Two former Blackwater [JURIST news archive] contractors were convicted [press release] Friday of involuntary manslaughter in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] for their role in the May 2009 shooting deaths of two Afghan nationals and the wounding of a third. Prosecutors alleged that the two men, Justin Cannon and Christopher Drotleff, left their military base without authorization and opened fire into the back of a civilian car after a traffic accident. The driver of the car and a civilian bystander were killed, and a passenger in the car was wounded. Cannon and Drotleff claim that they were defending themselves. They were originally indicted [indictment, PDF] in January 2010, but were charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act [text, PDF] in a superseding indictment in August. Both men were acquitted of two counts of second-degree murder, assault resulting in serious bodily injury to the passenger and firearms offenses, but were convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the death of the driver. The men could be sentenced to a maximum of eight years in prison.

Cannon and Drostleff were initially tried in September, but the judge declared a mistrial [JURIST report] after the jury failed to reach a verdict. In April, a federal grand jury indicted five former Blackwater executives [JURIST report] on charges of weapons violations and lying to investigators. In February 2010, the Iraqi government ordered 250 former Blackwater employees to leave Iraq [JURIST report] in reaction to the dismissal of charges against former Blackwater employees accused in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians [JURIST report] in 2007. That month, the Department of Justice [official website] also opened an investigation [JURIST report] into whether Blackwater bribed the Iraqi government to be permitted to continue operating in Iraq following the 2007 shootings. Blackwater ceased operations in Baghdad [JURIST report] in May 2009 when its security contracts expired and were not renewed.

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