The Justice Department has sent target letters to 6 employees of the security firm Blackwater in connection with the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians in a market last September:
It is very hard to get a read on this simply because we are not privy to the evidence. We can speculate that the prosecution is politically motivated - a move to placate the Iraqis who were absolutely livid about this incident when it occurred - but at the very least, reports are contradictory in the matter so there is no clear cut, definitive defense.
The guards, all former U.S. military personnel, were working as security contractors for the State Department, assigned to protect U.S. diplomats and other non-military officials in Iraq. The shooting occurred when their convoy arrived at a busy square in central Baghdad and guards tried to stop traffic.
An Iraqi government investigation concluded that the security contractors fired without provocation. Blackwater has said its personnel acted in self-defense.
The sources said that any charges against the guards would likely be brought under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which has previously been used to prosecute only the cases referred to the Justice Department by the Defense Department for crimes committed by military personnel and contractors overseas. Legal experts have questioned whether contractors working for the State Department can be prosecuted under its provisions.
On the other hand, the Blackwater contractors insist that they acted correctly. And these aren't some yahoos with guns. The Blackwater guards are ex-special forces many of them and it seems unlikely that someone that well trained would fire indiscriminately into a crowd.
All of this might be moot because the Blackwater attorneys are claiming that the law under which the guards might be prosecuted does not apply to State Department employees. No doubt this procedural matter will have to be decided before we hear any evidence in the case.