Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed weapons and manslaughter indictments last week against four employees of defense contractor Xe (formerly Blackwater). The employees engaged in a shooting spree that killed 14 civilians and wounded 20 more in Iraq in 2007.
Iraqis were astounded and angry at the news. Civilians were shot while fleeing the scene of the so-called fire fight. There is a glaring lack of evidence that anyone fired on the contractors. The Iraqis who were injured and the families of those who died want answers. They deserve answers. Now it is not clear they will ever get them.
Judge Urbina gave good reasons for dismissing the charges. As easy as it might be to accuse him of malfeasance, the real fault lies with the Justice Department. Urbinaâ€™s opinion was thorough. In it, he points out that the prosecution failed to protect the constitutional rights of the accused.
The State Department requires contractors to give statements after any incident where they discharge weapons. The contractors are given warnings that they will be fired for failing to give these statements. They are also informed that the statements will not be used for criminal prosecutions.
The very fact that the statements promise immunity from prosecution gives one pause. What kind of organization promises not to punish employees for wrongdoing? Blackwater had sought and received immunity from prosecution for its employees in Iraq in the past. Such an arrangement gives them license to kill. It would not be possible for a foreign company to operate in the United States under the same rules.
It should not be possible for an American company to do this in Iraq. Prosecutors for this case ignored warnings that they must not base indictments on the contractorsâ€™ statements. They were told not to use witnesses who knew about those statements. Within days of the incident, those statements were leaked to the press, making this a tall order to fill.
The short version is that the Justice Department dropped the ball. Prosecutors may not be able to build any case against the contractors now. What remains to be seen is whether the mishandling of the case was intentional or not.
When Ronald Reagan eviscerated environmental regulations by appointing Anne Gorsuch, an anti-environmentalist, to head the EPA, he pioneered a method of law-busting that continues to this day. Rather than change laws they dislike, conservatives simply bungle their enforcement. If George W. Bush promised his cronies immunity from prosecution for wrongdoing, the mishandling of the case by the Justice Department would be the perfect vehicle to deliver it.
The United States desperately needs to show good faith to the Arab world. This incident is exactly what leads critics of the United States to cry foul and rightly so. America claims to be fighting a war against terrorism. Charity begins at home.
Attorney General Eric Holder should investigate the prosecutors whose carelessness led to the dismissal of these charges and hold them responsible. If the victims were Americans, the public would settle for nothing less. Americans expect government officials to obey the law. That includes enforcing it.