Blackwater Guards’ Iraqi Civilian Death Case Reinstated by Appeals Court

The U.S. won a bid to revive its manslaughter and weapons case against four former Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused in the 2007 deaths of 14 Iraqi civilians at a Baghdad intersection.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington today reversed the decision of a lower-court judge, who dismissed the charges because statements the men made to State Department investigators may have influenced the grand jury.

“In sifting the record as to taint of the evidence before the indicting grand jury, the district court made a number of systemic errors based on an erroneous legal analysis,” said the appeals court.

Blackwater, the Moyock, North Carolina-based private U.S. provider of security services, is now known as Xe. District Judge Ricardo Urbina found that prosecutors, in trying to bring charges against the guards, sought statements that the men had been compelled to make to the state department in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

In a December 2009 ruling, Urbina said the men gave their statements under threat of job loss. In doing so, he said they were by law immune from prosecution for what they said.

The appeals court said Urbina must now “determine, as to each defendant, what evidence -- if any -- the government presented against him that was tainted.”

Unarmed Civilians

The government accused the guards of causing the deaths of 14 unarmed civilians and injuring 20 others. Three other fatalities weren’t included in the charges.

Five guards were charged. The appeals court notes that the U.S. voluntarily dismissed the indictment against Nicholas Slatten of Sparta, Tennessee.

Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Justice Department said, ‘We’re pleased with the ruling and are assessing the next steps.”

Bruce Bishop, a Washington lawyer who represented the defendants on the appeal, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Blackwater was hired to protect State Department personnel. According to court documents, on Sept. 16, 2007, at least six members of a convoy opened fire with automatic weapons and grenade launchers on unarmed civilians near Nisur Square in Baghdad after a car bomb exploded. None of the victims were insurgents and many were shot while inside their cars as they attempted to flee the scene, according to the indictment.

One victim was shot in the chest while standing in the street with his hands up, the government alleged.

The defendants are Evan Liberty, of Rochester, New Hampshire; Paul Slough of Keller, Texas; Dustin Heard of Maryville, Tennessee; and Donald Ball of West Valley City, Utah.

The case is U.S. v. Slough, 10-3006, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at tschoenberg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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