The AP via ABC News reported yesterday that the U.S. Justice Department has brought charges against four ex-contractors from Blackwater Worldwide over a 2007 shooting that left between 14 and 17 civilians dead.
Although the four contractors involved had been previously charged in 2008 with manslaughter and weapons violations, those charges were dropped when a federal judge ruled the Justice Department withheld evidence and violated the contractors' constitutional rights to a fair trial.
A federal appeals court resurrected the case on the grounds that the federal judge, Ricardo Urbina, was wrong in his interpretation of the law. Urbina is now retired. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth has given the Justice Department until Monday to decide how to proceed.
The incident occurred on September 16 in Baghdad. During an assignment in which they were expected to protect U.S. diplomats, the Blackwater escort convoy opened fire on the crowded Nisoor Square with grenade launchers, machine guns, and sniper fire. Defense lawyers are claiming the men were under insurgent attack.
The defendants' names and veterancy statuses were reported: Dustin Heard, former Marine of Knoxville, TN; Evan Liberty, a former Marine of Rochester, NH; Nick Slatten, a former Army sergeant of Sparta, TN; and Paul Slough, a U.S. Army veteran of Keller, TX.
The amount of charges vary between the ex-contractors: Slatten is being charged with 14 counts of voluntary manslaughter and 16 counts of attempted manslaughter while Liberty and Heard are respectively charged with 13 counts of voluntary and 16 counts of attempted manslaughter. Slough also received 13 counts of voluntary manslaughter, although his number of attempted manslaughter charges is 18.
All those charged would face a long stint in prison if they are convicted. Two other contractors were reportedly involved in the incident, but prosecutors dropped their charges against a fifth contractor (retired Marine Donald Ball of West Valley City, UT), and a sixth contractor (Jeremy Ridgeway of California) is already awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty.
Only Heard's defense lawyer, David Schertler, emailed comments to the AP. "We will continue to fight and defend Dustin Heard's innocence and honor until he is fully exonerated," he wrote.
Across the aisle, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said the prosecuting team "demonstrates our commitment to upholding the rule of law even in times of war and to bringing justice to the memories of those innocent men, women and children who were gunned down in Baghdad more than six years ago."[Image via Blackwater's website as it exists today]