WASHINGTON – Five Blackwater Worldwide security guards indicted in Washington for the 2007 shooting of Iraqi civilians plan to surrender to the FBI today in Utah, a person close to the case said, setting up a fight over the trial site.
The case already is shaping up to be a series of contentious legal battles before the guards can even go to trial. By surrendering in Utah, the home state of one of the guards, the men could argue in a far more conservative, pro-gun venue than Washington, some 2,000 miles away.
The five guards, all military veterans, were indicted for their roles in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.
The shooting strained U.S. diplomacy and fueled anti-American sentiment abroad. The Iraqi government has urged the U.S. to prosecute the guards and cheered news of the indictments.
Steven McCool, a lawyer for Blackwater guard and former Marine Donald Ball, confirmed Sunday that his client would surrender in Utah. Ball, a veteran of three tours in Iraq before joining Blackwater, is from West Valley, Utah.
The other guards indicted are Dustin Heard, a former Marine from Knoxville, Tenn.; Evan Liberty, a former Marine from Rochester, N.H.; Nick Slatten, a former Army sergeant from Sparta, Tenn.; and Paul Slough, an Army veteran from Keller, Texas.
Background to the order to Blackwater agents to surrender to FBI
from San Diego Peace Resource Center of San Diego
A group of five private security guards who allegedly killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad have been ordered to surrender themselves to the FBI within 24 hours.
The order was given on Sunday and lawyers for the men, who were working for the private contractor Blackwater in Iraq, said they would hand themselves in on Monday.
The details over the group’s identities and charges against them had been kept secret for more than a year, but were released on Sunday.
The men are all decorated war veterans who were contracted to protect US diplomats in Iraq.
They are accused of firing on 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square, in September 2007.
Their identites are Evan Liberty and Donald Ball, both 26-year-old former marines, Dustin Heard, a 27-year-old ex-marine, Nick Slatten, 25, an ex-army sergeant, and Paul Slough, a 29-year-old army veteran.
Blackwater said that the guards were returning fire after their convoy was shot at. The head of Blackwater even appeared before the US Congress shortly after the attack, saying that the men acted responsibly.
Agents from the FBI found in investigations in late 2007 that most of the 17 deaths had been unjustified.
The incident created a furor about the perceived ability of private guards to act with impunity in Iraq.
An Iraqi government spokesman has said that they believed that the attack were tantamount to deliberate murder.
At the time of the attack, private contractors like Blackwater operated without any clear legal oversight and it could be argued they did not have to answer either to Iraqi or US laws.
Poor forensic evidence
Under the deal Blackwater had with the US government, it was allowed to repair the vehicles involved in the attack before investigators saw them, taking away key forensic evidence.
But a sixth man, also a suspect in the case who has not been identified is expected to plead guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his cooperation in testifying against his former colleagues, which may help the prosecution.
Riad Kahwaji, the Middle East bureau chief for the international defence publication, Defence News, told Al Jazeera: “So far, in light of the investigations, it seems as if the right decision has been made, and these people have to answer to a court of law.”
Kahwaji said that it is not certain that the men will make trial – first a federal judge has to evaluate the evidence before approving the case being taken to court.
He said that the move would be good for US-Iraq relations even if there are complications during any trial: “The US would have shown that it is willing and ready to take action when need be against civilian contractors.”