WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court in Washington revived manslaughter and weapons charges against four Blackwater Worldwide security guards in a fatal 2007 shooting in Baghdad that outraged Iraqis.
The decision by three members of the U.S. Court of Appeals here Friday said that U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina “made a number of systemic errors based on an erroneous legal analysis.” They reversed Urbina’s ruling and sent it back to him for further proceedings.
Many of the Blackwater guards gave sworn statements about the incident with the guarantee that the statements would not be made public or used against them. Journalists later obtained copies of the statements, and Urbina ruled that the subsequent publicity “tainted” the prosecution’s decision to seek indictments against five of the guards.
But the appellate judges ruled that Urbina “erred” by lumping all of the statements and other evidence together when “at the most only some portion of the content was tainted.” They also said Urbina “made no effort to decide what parts … were free of taint.”
Blackwater has since been renamed Xe. The company’s general counsel in North Carolina declined to comment about the setback for the four guards.
In September 2007 a car bomb ignited near a Baghdad compound where a U.S. diplomat was meeting with Iraqi officials. American security officials ordered the guards from Blackwater, a private security company under contract with the U.S. State Department, to escort the diplomat to safety.
At the same time, a separate Blackwater team began blocking traffic in order to get the diplomat to safety when shots erupted, killing 14 Iraqi civilians and wounding 20.
The four guards who will be sent back for trial were identified as Evan Liberty, of Rochester, N.H.; Paul Slough, of Keller, Texas; Dustin Heard, of Maryville, Tenn.; and Donald Ball, of West Valley City, Utah.
Charges against the fifth guard, Nicholas Slatten, of Sparta, Tenn., have since been dismissed by prosecutors. A sixth guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, of California, has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and signaled he will testify against the others.