Blackwater Indictment and Mandatory Minimum Counts for Carrying Weapons in the Line of Duty

Yesterday the Justice Department indicted five Blackwater security contractors for their role in the deaths of civilians in Iraq that arose during a firefight with Iraqi insurgents on September 16, 2007 in Baghdad.

I have played a small role in the defense of the case and thought I would post a few links that may be of interest to those following the case.

The defense view of the case is as follows:

On September 16, 2007, on the dangerous streets of Baghdad, a State Department official and her security detail were attacked by insurgents using a roadside bomb. A second security team, including our clients, was sent to assist and in the process of securing an escape route were drawn into a firefight with insurgents in Nissor Square. Iraqi insurgents do not wear uniforms, and often disguise themselves as Iraqi soldiers or police to ambush U.S. forces. The tools of these insurgents include car bombs, roadside bombs, suicide bombers and automatic weapons. Faced with this enemy, these young men were fighting for their lives in a crowded, dangerous and chaotic environment. It is an unfortunate fact of war that in a country where terrorists and insurgents hide behind civilians to attack U.S. personnel, civilian casualties will result. These casualties are not the fault of our military and security forces however, but rather the fault of the insurgents who use women and children as shields, behind which they launch their cowardly attacks. Today, prosecutors in Washington, DC, seated comfortably in the safety of well guarded offices three thousand miles away from this deadly war zone, have seen fit to second guess how these decorated veterans of the military fought for the lives of their comrades and themselves. Worse they have charged these young men with offenses which could put them in prison for the rest of their lives for their efforts to save their own lives and the lives of others.

Here you can find the full press statement from the defense team about the defense perspective on the case.

There are very substantial jurisdictional and venue arguments that the defense has raised, including in particular whether the Justice Department has jurisdiction to try State Department contractors under a law designed to cover military personnel and whether jurisdiction lies in the District of Columbia rather than Utah. Here is the defense brief on these issues.

Perhaps the most interesting issue for readers of this blog may be the fact that the Government has alleged 30 year mandatory minimum prison time offenses against the contractors for recklessly discharging their Government-issued weapons (including machine guns) during the firefight. Apart from any of the other aspects of the case, that charge particularly strikes me as overreaching.