Editorial: Blackwater serves as example

Our View


Members of Blackwater USA entered pleas for a manslaughter incident in Iraq.


These embarrassing attacks destroy U.S. credibility and justice must not be delayed.

Blackwater USA, a private security contractor hired by the federal government to guard United States diplomats in Baghdad, was careless on Sept. 16, 2007.

Blackwater Worldwide security guards opened machine gun fire on innocent, surrendering Iraqis and launched a grenade into a girls’ school during a gruesome Baghdad shooting last year, prosecutors said Monday in announcing manslaughter charges against five guards.

A sixth guard involved in the attack agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors, turned on his former colleagues, and admitting killing at least one Iraqi in the 2007 shooting into Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. Seventeen Iraqis were killed in the assault, which agitated U.S. diplomacy with Iraq and fueled anti-American sentiment abroad.

The five guards surrendered Monday and were due to ask a federal judge in Utah for bail.

It has taken more than a year, and now pleas are being entered. Like this trial, the Iraq war has gone on too long. Even with President-elect Barack Obama wanting to be out by 2010, removing our soldiers from Iraq won’t be that easy.

Obama insisted that Congress should be involved in negotiations on the status of U.S. troops – and that it was in the interests of both sides not to have an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in its “state of weakness and political confusion.”

But with events like Blackwater, only time and actions of political leaders will tell us where the U.S. status of Iraq is.

The guards were charged with 14 counts of manslaughter and 20 counts of attempted manslaughter. They are also charged with using a machine gun to commit a crime of violence, a charge that carries a 30-year minimum prison sentence.

The shootings happened in a crowded square where prosecutors say civilians were going about their lives, running errands. Following a car bombing elsewhere in the city, the heavily armed Blackwater convoy sought to shut down the intersection. Prosecutors said the convoy, known by the call sign Raven 23, violated an order not to leave the U.S.-controlled Green Zone.

Witnesses said the contractors opened fire unprovoked. Women and children were among the victims and the shooting left the square littered with blown-out cars. Blackwater, the largest security contractor in Iraq, says its guards were ambushed and believed a slowly moving white Kia Sedan might have been a car bomb.

“We think it’s pure and simple a case of self-defense,” defense attorney Paul Cassell said Monday as the guards were being booked. “Tragically people did die.”

But this Blackwater incident is just one example of things that have gone wrong in the war.