A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has dismissed criminal charges against five Blackwater security guards accused of killing 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in an incident that strained U.S.-Iraqi relations and sparked an outcry over the military’s use of private contractors, reports the Los Angeles Times. Judge Ricardo Urbina said prosecutors had wrongly relied on what the guards told State Department investigators shortly after the incident. As government contractors, the Blackwater employees were required to speak to an investigator after a shooting.
Urbina said the use of these statements — which were given with a promise of immunity — violated the defendants’ rights against compelled self-incrimination. The efforts of prosecutors and investigators to show that their case did not hinge on compelled testimony “were all too often contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility,” Urbina wrote. The government could bring an appeal. It could also re-charge the guards, although a new prosecution could be difficult given the judge’s finding that the case was so thoroughly tainted. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Il.), who has sponsored legislation that would prohibit the hire of private military contractors, said, “A question I’ve been asking for a long time is, ‘Can these private military contractors actually get away with murder?’ ” This indicates that the answer is yes.”