In Iraq shootings, gov’t says its case against a former Blackwater guard is in jeopardy

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WASHINGTON – The government says its criminal case against a former Blackwater security guard is in jeopardy as a June 11 trial looms on charges stemming from the shootings of dozens of Iraqi citizens in an incident in Baghdad nearly seven years ago.

Nicholas Slatten and three other former Blackwater guards are charged in the Sept. 16, 2007, killings of 14 Iraqi citizens and the wounding of 18 others.

On Thursday, federal prosecutors said an appeals court ruling earlier this month has effectively terminated the manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and weapons charges against Slatten, who is described by prosecutors in court papers as one of the lead participants in the shootings.

If the appeals court decision is allowed to stand, Slatten will have received an unjustified windfall that will deprive the public of the ability to hold him accountable for his conduct, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., which is handling the case. The government is seeking a rehearing of the issue in the appeals court.

In court papers, Slatten’s lawyers say the charges against him were dismissed in 2009 by a federal judge, that the government failed to ask an appeals court to reinstate them and that too much time had elapsed by the time the government obtained a new indictment against Slatten late last year.

The government says the first set of charges against Slatten was not dismissed in 2009 and that the appeals court made an error when it said otherwise.

In a court filing in April, the legal team for Slatten and the other three Blackwater guards said that on Sept. 16, 2007, their clients went to the Nisoor Square traffic circle where they “came under attack and returned fire.” Subsequently, the guards’ employer, Blackwater Worldwide, provided prosecutors with photos of the company guards’ vehicles pocked and streaked with bullet marks.

Prosecutors said in a court filing in March that they intend to introduce evidence at the upcoming trial of deep hostility by several of the guards, including Slatten, toward the Iraqi civilian population in the year before shootings.

According to the prosecution’s court papers, Slatten said he wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as “payback for 9-11,” and he repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he had shot, including an old Iraqi woman who had a knife in her hand. That incident occurred while Slatten was in the Army, the filing stated.

In various locations in Baghdad, the court filing said, Slatten deliberately fired his weapon to draw return fire and instigate gun battles in a manner that was inconsistent with the use of force and escalation of force policies that governed Blackwater personnel in Iraq.

According to the filing, the government said it will establish at the trial that Slatten fired the first shots in the Sept. 16, 2007, incident.

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