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Terrorism & Security

Five Blackwater guards to face Washington jury on Baghdad manslaughter charges

None of the Iraqis killed in Nisoor Square on Sept. 16, 2007, was armed.

By Liam Stack / December 9, 2008

A federal judge on Monday ordered five employees of Blackwater Worldwide to report to a Washington court in January to face charges related to the deaths of more than a dozen Iraqi civilians on a busy Baghdad street on Sept.16, 2007.

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Fourteen Iraqi civilians, including women and children, were killed in a machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade shooting spree by the hired guards, say federal prosecutors. A further 20 civilians were injured, reports the Associated Press (AP).

The Washington order came hours after prosecutors announced the charges against the men, including one with a mandatory 30-year sentence, and after weeks in which defense attorneys have sought to move the trial to Salt Lake City.

The AP reports that defense lawyers wanted the trial to proceed in Utah, home of one of the men, Donald Ball, "in hopes of appealing to conservative jurors who may be more sympathetic to the war in Iraq than those in Washington."

The tactic received mixed support in Utah, with Rebecca Walsh, a columnist for The Salt Lake City Tribune, deriding the contractors' legal team as "big-city lawyers" and "smarty-pants attorneys."

Donald Ball's big-city lawyers really like Utah.
The hotels and international airport are so convenient. And our uber-patriotic support for the Iraq war and anything-goes gun laws also appeal.
So the Utahphiles figured Ball, one of six disgraced Blackwater guards accused of mowing down a crowd of unarmed Iraqis last year, had a better chance of getting off here than just about anywhere else in America.

But the Justice Department moved to hold the trial in Washington, where one former guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, had already pleaded guilty to lesser charges in a deal with prosecutors, the AP reports. The federal judge in Salt Lake City agreed.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the five indicted security guards, part of Blackwater's Raven 23 convoy, were operating outside the Green Zone without authorization on the day of the shootings.

They traveled to Baghdad's Nisoor Square to investigate reports of an improvised explosive device and set up a checkpoint to slow the flow of traffic. Seconds later, the team opened fire on an approaching Kia sedan which "failed to come to a complete stop," the paper reports.

Ridgeway said he and other members of the Blackwater team pumped hundreds of machine-gun rounds into the Kia, killing its occupants, a second-year medical student named Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia'y and his mother, a doctor, who was sitting in the passenger seat.
Minutes later, Ridgeway said, the Blackwater convoy departed Nisoor Square against the flow of traffic, and turret gunners in the convoy "continued to fire their machine guns at civilian vehicles that posed no threat to the convoy."

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