IRAQ -- December 31, 2009 at 5:10 PM EDT
Blackwater Guards Cleared of Iraq Shooting Charges by Federal Judge
A federal judge in Washington on Thursday dismissed all charges against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina's ruling does not state whether the shooting in a crowded Baghdad intersection that left 17 Iraqis dead was proper, only that the government improperly used evidence to build the case, the Associated Press reported.
Urbina wrote that Justice Department prosecutors improperly built their case on sworn statements that had been given under a promise of immunity. The judge wrote in his 90-page ruling that the government's explanations were "contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility":
In their zeal to bring charges against the defendant in this case, the prosecutors and investigators aggressively sought out statements the defendants had been compelled to make to government investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and in the subsequent investigation ... The government used the defendants' compelled statements to guide its charging decisions, to formulate its theory of the case, to develop investigatory leads and, ultimately, to obtain the indictment in this case ... The explanations offered by the prosecutors and investigators in an attempt to justify their actions and persuade the court that they did not use the defendants' compelled testimony were all too often contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility. In short, the government has utterly failed to prove that it made no impermissible use of the defendants' statements or that such use was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the court must dismiss the indictment against all of the defendants.
The incident inflamed anti-American sentiment overseas, and the government of Iraq wanted the guards to face trial there.
Defense attorneys said Thursday that the guards were thrilled by the ruling after more than two years of scrutiny. A Justice Department spokesman expressed disappointment, saying prosecutors were considering their options since they can appeal the ruling.
We'll have more on the charges being dismissed on Thursday's NewsHour when Ray Suarez speaks with reporter Matt Apuzzo who's covering the case for the AP.