Appeals court revives Blackwater shooting case

Plainclothes contractors working for Blackwater USA take part in a firefight as Iraqi demonstrators loyal to Muqtada Al Sadr attempt to advance on a facility being defended by U.S. and Spanish soldiers, in this April 4, 2004 file photo in the Iraqi city of Najaf. AP Photo, file

WASHINGTON - An appeals court resurrected the case Friday against four Blackwater Worldwide guards involved in a 2007 shooting in a Baghdad public square that killed 17 Iraqis.

A federal trial judge in Washington, Ricardo Urbina, threw out the case on New Year's Eve 2009 after Urbina ruled that the Justice Department mishandled evidence and violated the guards' constitutional rights.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Friday that Urbina wrongly interpreted the law. It ordered that he reconsider whether there was tainted evidence against four of the five defendants: former U.S. Marines Evan Liberty, Donald Ball and Dustin Heard; and Army veteran Paul Slough.

The Justice Department has dismissed charges against a fifth defendant, Nick Slatten, a former U.S. Army sergeant.

Blackwater security contractors were guarding U.S. diplomats when the guards opened fire in Nisoor Square, a crowded Baghdad intersection, on Sept. 16, 2007. Seventeen people were killed, including women and children, and 20 others wounded in a shooting that inflamed anti-American sentiment in Iraq.

Blackwater said the guards were innocent and had responded to an ambush by insurgents. Prosecutors said the shooting was unprovoked.

The U.S. rebuffed Iraqi demands that the U.S. contractors face trial in Iraqi courts. After a lengthy investigation, U.S. prosecutors charged the five contractors with 14 counts of manslaughter and took a guilty plea from a sixth, Jeremy Ridgeway. Urbina's dismissal outraged many Iraqis, who said it showed Americans considered themselves above the law.

Since the shooting, the North Carolina-based Blackwater has renamed itself Xe Services and overhauled its management.

There was no immediate comment from defense attorneys, who said they were reviewing the ruling.

Comments