January 1, 2010 - 9:08am
Blackwater headquarters (AP)
By MATT APUZZO
A federal judge cited repeated government missteps in dismissing all charges against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians in a case that inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed the case against the guards accused of the shooting in a crowded Baghdad intersection in 2007.
The shooting in busy Nisoor Square left 17 Iraqis dead. The Iraqi government wanted the guards to face trial in Iraq and officials there said they would closely watch how the U.S. judicial system handled the case.
Urbina said the prosecutors ignored the advice of senior Justice Department officials and built their case on sworn statements that had been given under a promise of immunity. Urbina said that violated the guards' constitutional rights. He dismissed the government's explanations as "contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility."
"We're obviously disappointed by the decision," 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.
Ali al-Dabagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, said in a statement Friday that the government was dismayed by the court's dismissal of the case.
"The Iraqi government regrets the decision," he said. "Investigations conducted by specialized Iraqi authorities confirmed unequivocally that the guards of Blackwater committed the crime of murder and broke the rules by using arms without the existence of any threat obliging them to use force."
"The Iraqi government will follow up its procedures strictly and firmly to pursue the criminals of the above named company and to preserve the rights of the Iraqi citizens who were victims or the families who suffered losses from this crime."