Justice sends target letters to Blackwater guards
Almost a year after a Baghdad shooting that left 17 civilians dead, federal prosecutors are taking action against the six Blackwater Worldwide security guards many deem responsible.
The US Justice Department sent target letters to the guards being investigated, The Washington Post reported Saturday. Although not identified by name, the guards were described as US military personnel.
Target letters often are a prelude to indictment, but allow the suspects to defend themselves by telling the court their own version of events. A federal grand jury has already heard the testimony of dozens of witnesses, including US and Blackwater officials and Iraqis.
The US attorney's office, the Justice Department and the FBI all declined to comment in the Post's article.
A spokesman for Blackwater said the company believes the guards fired in defense and added that it is closely watching the investigation.
"If it is determined that an individual acted improperly, Blackwater would support holding that person accountable," Tyrell said in a statement. "But at this stage, without being able to review evidence collected in an ongoing investigation, we will not prejudge the actions of any individual. The company is cooperating fully with ongoing investigations and believes that accountability is important."
The shooting has become a source of anger in Congress as no one has been held accountable for the Iraqi deaths. The incident only added to the general dissatisfaction many Washington politicians feel towards private security contractors in Iraq.
The shootings began when a Blackwater convoy, which was responding to a Baghdad car bombing, entered the Nisoor Square traffic circle, the Associated Press reported.
Blackwater says the convoy was ambushed by insurgents, touching off a firefight. Iraqi witnesses, however, described an unprovoked attack in which security guards fired indiscriminately, killing motorists, bystanders and children in the square.
Soon after the incident, it appeared that the probe led by the FBI was ignoring evidence that would hold the guards at fault. The agency was further criticized for allowing Blackwater to guard the investigation into its actions, a bias the FBI eventually acknowledged by dropping the contractor as its security escort "to avoid even the appearance of any conflict."
Iraqi leaders have asked repeatedly in negotiations over renewed US/Iraq security pacts that the all security contractors be subject to Iraqi law, a request that the US military continues to deny.
Wire services contributed to this report.