Judge dismisses Blackwater case

A federal judge in the US dismisses all charges against five security guards accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007.

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WASHINGTON // A federal judge dismissed all charges yesterday against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians in a crowded Baghdad intersection in 2007. Citing repeated government missteps, the US District Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed a case that had been steeped in international politics. The shooting in busy Nisoor Square left 17 Iraqis dead and inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad. The Iraqi government wanted the guards to face trial in Iraq and officials there said they would closely watch how the US judicial system handled the case.

Judge Urbina said the prosecutors ignored the advice of senior Justice Department officials and improperly built their case on sworn statements that had been given under a promise of immunity. He said that violated the guards' constitutional rights and dismissed the government's explanations as "contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility". "We're obviously disappointed by the decision," the Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said. "We're still in the process of reviewing the opinion and considering our options."

Prosecutors can appeal the ruling. Blackwater contractors had been hired to guard US diplomats in Iraq. The guards said insurgents ambushed them in a roundabout. Prosecutors said the men unleashed an unprovoked attack on civilians using machine guns and grenades. The shooting led to the unravelling of the North Carolina-based company, which since has replaced its management and changed its name to Xe Services.

The five guards are former Marines Donald Ball, Dustin Heard and Evan Liberty, former Army sergeant Nick Slatten and Paul Slough, an Army veteran. Defence lawyers said the guards were thrilled by the ruling after more than two years of scrutiny. "It's tremendously gratifying to see the court allow us to celebrate the new year the way it has," said attorney Bill Coffield, who represents Liberty. In a statement released by its president, Joseph Yorio, the company said it was happy to have the shooting behind it.

"Like the people they were protecting, our Xe professionals were working for a free, safe and democratic Iraq for the Iraqi people," Mr Yorio said. "With this decision, we feel we can move forward and continue to assist the United States in its mission to help the people of Iraq and Afghanistan find a peaceful, democratic future." * AP