Interference Seen in Blackwater Inquiry
By JAMES RISEN, The New York Times
Published: March 2, 2010
WASHINGTON – An official at the United States Embassy in Iraq has told federal prosecutors that he believes that State Department officials sought to block any serious investigation of the 2007 shooting episode in which Blackwater Worldwide security guards were accused of murdering 17 Iraqi civilians, according to court testimony made public on Tuesday.
In December, a federal judge dismissed the criminal charges against five former Blackwater guards in the Nisour Square shooting, and criticized the Justice Department’s handling of the case, chiding prosecutors for trying to use statements from defendants who had been offered immunity and testimony from witnesses tainted by news media leaks.
The documents made public on Tuesday show that before the December dismissal, prosecutors and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents working on the Nisour Square case took the stand in October to argue that they had plenty of untainted evidence. In a closed-door hearing, they also contended that they had evidence that, in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, there had been a concerted effort to make the case go away, both by Blackwater and by at least some embassy officials.
In fact, prosecutors were told that the embassy had never conducted any significant investigation of any of the numerous shooting episodes in Iraq involving Blackwater before the Nisour Square case, according to the documents.
The dismissal of the criminal case against the guards for Blackwater in the Nisour Square shooting prompted bitter protests by Iraqis against the United States, and it led the Iraqi government to threaten to bring a lawsuit of its own in the case.
The Justice Department has now appealed the dismissal. Blackwater has settled one series of civil lawsuits brought by victims of the Nisour Square shooting, but another lawsuit brought by another group of victims is still pending.