A judge in the United States has triggered anger after rejecting a case against mercenary soldiers employed in Iraq by the company Blackwater. There has been international criticism of the role of mercenaries in the country, with some suggesting that they are effectively free of legal control.
The five Blackwater employees, who are all US citizens, had been charged with manslaughter after allegedly gunning down 17 Iraqi civilians.
Haitham Ahmed, whose wife and son were killed in the incident, described the court’s decision as a “farce”, saying that, “The rights of our victims and the rights of the innocent people should not be wasted”.
The judge, Ricardo Urbina, threw out the case on the grounds that the prosecution had made use of statements given by the five men after the incident, whereas the US State Department had given them the assurance that their statements would not be used to prosecute them. This is a common procedure in investigations into police shootings in the US.
However, the Iraqi government insisted that “Investigations conducted by specialised Iraqi authorities confirmed unequivocally that the guards of Blackwater committed the crime of murder and broke the rules by using arms without the existence of any threat obliging them to use force”.
In the light of this statement, questions are likely to be asked about why mercenaries in Iraq are not subject to Iraqi law and tried by Iraqi courts, given that the country is supposedly independent.
The US military commander in Iraq added that he was upset by the court’s decision.
If convicted of manslaughter, the mercenaries would have faced mandatory thirty-year prison sentences. The implications of the ruling are not yet clear for a sixth mercenary, who pleaded guilty of killing one Iraqi and wounding another.
All the men admit having fired their weapons, but claimed that they did so reactively. Nisoor Square, when the incident took place, had been cleaned of evidence by the time that the FBI began an investigation.
The prosecution may still choose to appeal against the ruling. In addition, a civil case against Blackwater is still before a US court. It has been brought by a number of Iraqis who allege that the mercenaries engaged in indiscriminate killings and assaults.