Newly leaked documents alleging the involvement of US private security firm Blackwater in the unlawful killing of Iraqi civilians are unlikely to lead to prosecutions, say experts, as current trials continue to collapse.
Attempts to prosecute military contractors are proving futile
With more than 400,000 classified US army documents going online in the latest mass release of files by the WikiLeaks website, the world has been given further disturbing insight into the war in Iraq. The leak, which followed a similar release of 70,000 secret files on the war in Afghanistan in July, revealed in horrifying detail the civilian cost of the bloody conflict with details of abuse and murder by Iraqi security forces and other groups.
Among the latest leaked documents are accounts of hitherto undisclosed killings attributed to operatives of the US private security company Blackwater, now known as Xe Services.
The controversial company, which has garnered a shady reputation for allegedly unregulated, mercenary activities as a US military contractor in Iraq, is cited in 14 files which document incidents in which Blackwater guards opened fire on civilians, killing 10 in total and wounding seven.
The WikiLeaks documents claim that in one-third of the cases where civilians were unlawfully killed, the Blackwater operatives were protecting US diplomats as part of a $465-million (331-million euros) State Department contract when they opened fire. The files allege that Blackwater operatives repeatedly shot at civilian vehicles that came close to their convoys, and on one occasion even shot dead an ambulance driver as his vehicle sped toward the scene of a bomb attack.
Blackwater guards have been implicated in civilian deaths
Blackwater rose to notoriety with the 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nisour Square which left 17 civilians dead and 18 wounded. After the Nisour massacre, the Iraqi Government demanded Blackwater leave the country.
Five Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour shooting were charged with murder back in the US, although a judge dismissed the case for prosecutorial misconduct in January this year. The manslaughter and weapons charges were also dropped.
After leaving Iraq, Blackwater changed its named to Xe Services in February 2009, saying the rebranding reflected "the change in company focus away from the business of providing private security."
However, the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department have continued to award the company with contracts to protect their installations and personnel and Xe now provides the majority of the 26,000 private security workers used by the US in Afghanistan. The company earned more than $1.5 billion from US government contracts in Iraq after deploying in the wake of the 2003 invasion.
New revelations, old problems
Blackwater founder Erik Prince has seen many cases collapse
After reviewing the new revelations from WikiLeaks, the Iraqi government has said that it will investigate whether Blackwater was involved in the civilian deaths detailed in the recently leaked documents.
However, legal and security experts have grave doubts that any investigation based on the latest WikiLeaks reports alleging Blackwater involvement in civilian deaths will lead to prosecutions. Given the state of play regarding previous cases, analysts believe Blackwater has nothing to fear from the new revelations.
"First off, the publication of classified data is illegal," Dr. Paul Sullivan, professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, told Deutsche Welle in reference to the evidence provided by WikiLeaks. "Also, the use of classified data obtained illegally through a chain of illegal actions leaves some complex questions for any judge. In the US, a judge will decide what is admissible evidence and what is not. This is far from a clear issue in the courts in the US."
Cases collapsing under weight of legal complications
Cases arising from previous actions involving Blackwater guards in Iraq have been mired in complications arising from investigating incidents in combat zones which, in turn, have led to a number of cases collapsing.
Often under fire, Blackwater guards claim self-defense
Last week, Andrew J. Moonen, a Blackwater employee accused of killing Rhaeem Khalif Saadoun, the bodyguard of an Iraqi vice president in 2006, saw all the charges brought against him dropped after a four-year investigation.
The US Attorney's Office in Seattle said that no indictment would be brought against Moonen and stated that while there was "no question that the shooting ... was a tragic event," lack of solid evidence convinced the government that it could not build a case. Moonen claimed that he had shot Saadoun in self-defense after being confronted by the bodyguard.
The collapse of Moonen's case follows the failure in September to convict two former Blackwater guards accused of killing two Afghan civilians. A hung jury in the Virginia murder trial led to the two Blackwater employees being released after the guards said that they shot in self-defense when they believed they were facing an attack from insurgents, a claim also used by the five Blackwater guards cleared in the Nisour Square case.
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