Judge Upholds Charges Against Blackwater Guards
Tuesday, February 17, 2009; 3:04 PM
A federal judge today refused to toss out charges against five U.S. security contractors accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in a busy Baghdad square in 2007.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina came in an early legal challenge brought by defense attorneys representing the guards, who worked at the time for Blackwater Worldwide. The guards' attorneys had argued the government didn't have jurisdiction to bring the charges.
The guards were indicted in December on charges of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and using a firearm in a crime of violence in the controversial shooting in bustling Nisoor Square in September 2007. The government says the guards killed 14 Iraqi civilians and wounded 20 others in a salvo of bullets and grenade explosions. Prosecutors have said the guards unleashed an unprovoked attack on the civilians.
The charges were brought under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) of 2000, which allows U.S. prosecutors to charge American service members, their family members and those employed by the military for illegal acts committed overseas.
A 2004 amendment expanded MEJA to cover those working "in support" of Defense Department missions, a provision that prosecutors argue covers security contractors, such as Blackwater, working for the State Department in Iraq.