Five Blackwater guards charged in the shooting deaths of 14 Iraqi civilians are now facing trial in a Washington, D.C. The Associated Press reports that a bid by defense attorneys to move the case to Utah -- where the accused guards turned themselves in -- was unsuccessful.
A federal indictment unsealed yesterday charges the men with voluntary manslaughter, attempt to commit manslaughter, and weapons violations. Moving the case to more conservative, pro-gun Utah might have boosted the defendants' chances of a sympathetic jury.
Five men -- all U.S. military veterans -- are charged in the September 2007 shooting: Paul Slough of Keller, Texas; Dustin Heard of Maryville, Tenn.; Evan Liberty of Rochester, N.H.; Nicholas Slatten of Sparta, Tenn.; and Donald Ball of West Valley City, Utah. Another defendant, Jeremy Ridgeway of California, entered a guilty plea on Dec. 5 in Washington. Blackwater itself faces no charges.
As we've noted previously, this is shaping up as a precedent-setting case. The accused shooters were working under contract to the U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor said the indictment represented the first case where non-Department of Defense Contractors would be charged under the Military Extraterritorial Judiciary Act. That law originally allowed for prosecution of civilian contractors who commit crimes while working for the U.S. Department of Defense overseas; in 2004, the law was amended to expand its reach to non-Defense Department contractors who support military missions abroad.
"We take no pleasure in charging individuals whose job it was to protect the men and women of our country, but when individuals are alleged to have violated the law while carrying out those duties, we are duty bound to hold them accountable, as no one is above the law, even when our country is engaged in war," Taylor said. "This indictment is the first step of that process, and it is the virtue of our system that these individuals will have their day in court."
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