5 Blackwater guards charged for Iraq massacre


Andrew McLemore
Published: Friday December 5, 2008

Five Blackwater security guards have been indicted on charges related to a 2007 massacre that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, some of them children.

The federal investigation into the shooting remains under court seal, but sources say the guards have been asked to surrender to the FBI by Monday to face federal manslaughter and assault charges, ABC News reported.

A recent report suggests the guards could face up to 30 years in prison.

The State Department, which hires Blackwater guards to protect US diplomats and other military employees, has no comment on the development. Blackwater and the Justice Department have both also refused to comment, CNN reported.

Blackwater's involvement with the shooting became an anti-American rallying cry for insurgents and strained relations between the U.S. and Iraq.

But prosecutors face a hard battle, the Associated Press reported.

The law is unclear on whether contractors can be charged in the U.S., or anywhere, for crimes committed overseas. The indictment sends the message that the Justice Department believes contractors do not operate with legal impunity in war zones.

Blackwater maintains the innocence of its employees and said the guards were protecting a U.S. diplomatic convoy when they came under attack from armed insurgents.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said, "We've consistently said that we do not believe the guards acted unlawfully. If it is determined they did, we would support holding them accountable."

An Iraqi investigation called the killings "premeditated murder" and accused the guards of firing on civilians indiscriminately, CNN reported.

The State Department renewed Blackwater's contract this year over strong objections from the Iraqi government.