Mon, Jan 25, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Biden says US to appeal dismissal of Blackwater case


The US will appeal a court decision dismissing manslaughter charges against five Blackwater Worldwide guards involved in a deadly 2007 Baghdad shooting, US Vice President Joe Biden said on Saturday.

Biden’s announcement after a meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani shows just how diplomatically sensitive the incident remains nearly three years later. A lawyer for one guard, noting that word of the intended appeal came in Iraq, accused the administration of US President Barack Obama of political expediency and said the US was pursuing an innocent man, rather than justice.

Blackwater security contractors were guarding US diplomats when the guards opened fire at a crowded Baghdad intersection, on Sept. 16, 2007. Seventeen people were killed in the shooting, including women and children.

Biden expressed his “personal regret” for the shooting and said the Obama administration was disappointed by the dismissal.

“A dismissal is not an acquittal,” he said.

The US rebuffed Iraqi demands that the US contractors face trial in Iraqi courts. After a lengthy investigation, US prosecutors charged five of the contractors with manslaughter and took a guilty plea from a sixth.

But the case fell apart when a federal trial judge in Washington, Ricardo Urbina, said in a Dec. 31 ruling that the Justice Department mishandled evidence and violated the guards’ constitutional rights.

Prosecutors now face difficult odds getting an appeals court to reinstate the case.

The dismissal outraged many Iraqis, who said it showed that the Americans considered themselves above the law.

Lawyers for two of the Blackwater guards — Donald Ball, a former US Marine from West Valley City, Utah, and Dustin Heard, a former US Marine from Knoxville, Tennessee — criticized the US government’s planned appeal.

“By announcing this decision in Iraq, through an elected official, the United States makes clear it has decided to do what is politically expedient, rather than what is just based on Judge Urbina’s unshakable findings that the prosecutors engaged in gross misconduct and intentionally violated Mr Ball’s constitutional rights,” attorney Steven McCool, who represents Ball, said in a statement. “In the end, the United States has shown it will pursue an innocent man, rather than justice.”

Attorney David Schertler, who represents Heard, said moving ahead with an appeal “appears to be based upon political considerations rather than a careful consideration of the legal merits of the case as it should be.”

Schertler said a planned meeting between defense attorneys and the national security division of the Justice Department to discuss whether an appeal was warranted was canceled before Biden’s Saturday announcement.

He said the defense was told that the national security division “no longer had any meaningful input into the decision.”

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