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Fed Judge Dismisses Charges Against Blackwater Guards — Ending 2009 on a Sour Note for Justice Dept.

blackwaterlogo2By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — A federal judge here dropped charges against five Blackwater guards because of questionable prosecution tactics on the very last day of the year. It surely wasn’t the way the Justice Department wanted to wrap up 2009, a year that had a lot of ups and downs in the court.

The Justice Department scored some major victories in 2009 with the conviction of ex-Congressman William Jefferson and guilty pleas from the two Bernies — swindler Bernie Madoff and ex-New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik.

But the Justice Department  was embarrassed after a conviction of ex-Senator Ted Stevens was thrown out because of prosecutor misconduct and after a mistrial was declared for the fourth time in trial of John Gotti Jr. case when the jury was declared deadlocked.

On Thursday, in the Blackwater case,  U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed the charges against five guards accused of killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in a crowded Baghdad traffic circle in 2007,  saying in a 90-page opinion that the Justice Department had wrongfully used “immunized statements” the men made to the State Department even though the men were told the remarks could not be used against them in court.

In the lengthy opinion, the jude wrote: “In their zeal to bring charges prosecutors and investigators aggressively sought out statements in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and in the subsequent investigation. In so doing, the government’s trial team repeatedly disregarded the warnings of experienced, senior prosecutors, assigned to the case specifically to advise the trial team.. that his course of action threatened the viability of the prosecution.”

The Blackwater case has caused great tension between the U.S. and Iraq and as expected Iraqis were none too happy with the judge’s ruling.

Abdul Wahab Adul Khaeder, 34, a blank employee shot in the hand while driving during the 2007 shootings, told the New York Times:

“What are we — not human? Why do they have the right to kill people? Is our blood so cheap? For America, the land of justice and law, what does it mean to let criminals go? They were chasing me and shooting at me. They were determined to kill me.”

And Sami Hawas, 45, a taxi driver, who was shot in the back that day and paralaized told the Times:

“I can’t even think of words to say,” Mr. Hawas said after being told about the court ruling. “We have been waiting for so long. I still have bullets in my back. I cannot even sit like an ordinary human being.”

The Justice Department said it has not made up its mind whether to appeal the ruling, according to Times.

The Blackwater guards included: Paul Slough, Nicholas Slatten, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Donald Ball.


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