A federal judge dismissed charges against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in a controversial shooting in a busy Baghdad square two years ago in a ruling that sharply criticized the tactics of Justice Department prosecutors handling the case.
The judge, Ricardo M. Urbina of the District’s federal court, found that prosecutors and agents had improperly used statements that the guards provided to the State Department in the hours and days after the shooting. The statements had been given with the understanding that they would not be used against the guards in court, the judge found, and federal prosecutors should not have used them to help guide their investigation. Urbina said other Justice Department lawyers had warned the prosecutors to tread carefully around the incriminating statements.
The five Blackwater guards — a sixth has pleaded guilty — were indicted in December 2008 on manslaughter and weapons charges accusing them of killing and injuring unarmed civilians.
Federal prosecutors have said the guards killed 14 Iraqis and wounded 20 in an unprovoked blaze of bullets and grenade explosions. The guards’ attorneys have said their clients fired in self-defense after being shot at by insurgents.
The incident, which badly strained U.S.-Iraqi relations, was the most serious one involving private security contractors in recent years, and it raised questions about using such guards in war zones. It so badly stigmatized Blackwater that the company renamed itself Xe Services.
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