The Justice Department on Friday appealed a court decision dismissing charges against five former Blackwater guards involved in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqis dead.
Vice President Joe Biden announced the government’s intention to file an appeal last weekend, after a meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
Prosecutors say the guards opened fire in a crowded Baghdad intersection without provocation, killing or wounding more than 30 Iraqis, including women and children. Attorneys for the guards say their clients, who were protecting U.S. diplomats, took fire from insurgents and responded in kind.
U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington dismissed manslaughter charges against the guards in a harshly worded Dec. 31 ruling, in which he faulted Justice Department prosecutors for using tainted evidence to build their case and for abusing the grand jury process.
Many Iraqis were outraged by the decision, viewing it as evidence that the U.S. was not accountable for bloodshed in their country. Iraqi leaders have been collecting signatures for a class action against the security contractor, which changed its name to Xe Services last year.
Urbina’s December ruling invited comparisons to the the botched prosecution of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), whose conviction was erased last year because of government missteps.
In that case, Judge Emmet Sullivan, who sits on same court as Urbina, criticized the government for failing to disclose materials that could have aided in Stevens’ defense. Sullivan dismissed the case at Attorney General Eric Holder’s request, and then appointed a counsel to investigate prosecutors for possible criminal contempt.
Urbina, however, made no formal finding of misconduct, and in a ruling earlier this month, he said the Justice Department could seek a new indictment against the men. Urbina said prosecutors acted with “disregard” but concluded that dismissing the case — without prejudice — was punishment enough.
The government has not yet filed a brief explaining the grounds for appeal. In pretrial hearings, prosecutors argued that interviews the guards gave to the State Department after the shooting were part of the normal course of their job and could be used against them. Urbina ruled that interviews were compelled, which immunized the guards.