Sunday, December 7, 2008

Iraq translators' mask ban dropped/Five Blackwater Guards To Face Massacre Charges Next Week


Iraq translators' mask ban dropped

By Humphrey Hawksley
BBC News, Baghdad

The Pentagon has rescinded a controversial decision that banned Iraqi interpreters working for US troops in Baghdad from protecting their identities by wearing ski-masks.

The ban was meant to reflect the improved security situation - in which interpreters were no longer afraid of retaliation. But that is not the case.

"If anyone of my neighbours see me with this uniform I will get killed," said an interpreter working with the US 4-10 Cavalry Regiment, which patrols a large part of western Baghdad.

"Maybe they will kill my family. That's the issue", he added.

About 30 interpreters work with the 300 troops from a large camp that used to be a luxury shopping mall.

Another interpreter, who only wanted to be known as Zeeman, said he had worked for too many years against too many different militia to feel safe.

"I am married and I have a family and we have to remember that these forces are leaving one day and we are staying here."

He explained further: "If these people here see the same faces as they see with the Americans and American is not here?" The question was left hanging, with no doubt as to his fear.

Some 300 interpreters have been killed during the war in Iraq, and they are seen as a crucial link between the US forces and Iraqi communities trying to recover from the years of violence.

"It would have been tough to get where we are today without our interpreters," said the regiment commander, Colonel Monty Willoughby.

"We know that they get spooked and scared, and we try to protect their identity as much as possible."

'At grave risk'

Out on patrol with Zeeman, we called first at a local Iraqi police station where he translated an intelligence briefing.

We then headed to a empty building lot nearby where it was thought weapons might be hidden.

He apologised to the residents as our Humvees blocked the street and during the search - that yielded nothing - he liaised between the police and the US soldiers.

Finally, he introduced the patrol commander to Iraqi soldiers manning traffic checkpoints.

"To be a successful linguist you have to act when you translate - act exactly what's going on - to make the other side understand if they are sad, if they are happy, if they are serious or not serious."

US officials at first tried to defend the Pentagon ruling, saying interpreters could seek alternative employment if they were unhappy with it.

But the issue was taken up by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden. He sent a Congressional petition to the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

"Preventing interpreters from concealing their identities puts their lives, as well as the lives of their families at grave risk," said the petition letter.

It went on: "The heightened threat could also reduce the numbers of interpreters available in Iraq, due to death and resignations, and put American service members and their missions in danger."

Col Willoughby said the mask ban had now been lifted and that decisions could be made at an operational level.

"We ask them not to wear masks," he said. "But troop commanders can make that determination."

Zeeman does not give his real name and does not want his face filmed.

He has worked without a mask for some time, realising that it helps the hearts and minds campaign. "But the decision needs to be in my hands, not in the hands of someone in Washington who knows nothing about how we work."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/12/06 08:03:40 GMT


Five Blackwater Guards To Face Massacre Charges Next Week

Guards Told to Surrender to the FBI by Monday on Manslaughter, Assault Counts


December 5, 2008—

Five Blackwater guards have been told to surrender to the FBI by Monday to face federal manslaughter and assault charges connected to the shooting deaths of 17 civilians at an traffic circle in Iraq last year, ABC News has learned.

Law enforcement officials say the grand jury hearing the case was in session Thursday in Washington, D.C. and was expected to have voted on the indictments.

The federal investigation revealed that two of the Blackwater guards did most of the shooting and are expected to face either murder or manslaughter charges, law enforcement officials said.

They identified the two as Dustin Heard, of Tennessee, a former Marine who joined Blackwater in 2004; and Paul Slough, of Texas, a former U.S. Army infantry soldier who joined Blackwater in 2006.

Also told to surrender to the FBI on Monday are: Donald Ball, a former Marine Corporal from West Valley City, Utah; Evan Liberty, a former Marine who guarded US Embassies in Egypt and Guatemala from Rochester, N.H.; Nick Slatten, a former Army sergeant from the 82 Airborne from Sparta, Tenn.

FBI agents and American prosecutors plan to travel to Baghdad next week to personally brief the families of victims about the indictments, according to the law enforcement officials.

Justice Department officials declined to comment on the ABC News report.

The bloody incident at Baghdad's Nisoor Square sparked widespread outrage in Iraq over what many considered trigger-happy American security guards who shot at civilians with impunity and no fear of consequences.

Weeks later, the Department of Justice publicly announced it had opened an investigation. Some of the defense lawyers say their clients, all former decorated members of the military in their 20's, are being used as scapegoats to quell anger at the U.S. in Iraq.

Blackwater maintained its guards fired in self-defense after coming under fire as they protected a diplomatic motorcade.

Civilians at the scene and relatives of the dead told U.S. investigators there was no hostile fire and the shootings were unprovoked.

Case Against Blackwater Guards Likely to Face Serious Legal Challenge

Prosecutors plan to charge the men under a law meant to cover soldiers and military contractors even though the Blackwater guards were in Iraq as part of a State Department security contract, according to lawyers briefed on the case.

As a result, the case is likely to face a serious challenge on technical legal grounds.

"I think a district judge would have really no choice but to dismiss the indictment," said noted military defense lawyer Gene Fidell, citing the fact the Blackwater contract was not with the military.

The jurisdiction "simply doesn't apply," Fidell said.

In a statement made the day after the September 2007 shooting, Slough told US State Department agents he opened fire on a car because "the driver looked directly at me and kept moving toward our motorcade. Fearing for my life and the lives of my teammates, I engaged the driver and stopped the threat."

U.S. investigators say the driver of the car was an unarmed civilian.

Heard, in his statement to agents, said he "heard gunshots" and "engaged the car with approximately 20 to 30 rounds from my M4 rifle."

Heard's attorney, David Schertler, said they strongly disagree with the decision to bring charges against Heard, which he characterized as "wrong and unjust."

Schertler said: "On September 16, 2007, at Nisour Square, Blackwater security guards were defending themselves and their comrades who were being shot at and receiving fire from Iraqis they believed to be enemy insurgents, in a place where the enemy has made a major city, Baghdad, the battlefield. Because of that and because of the deceptive tactics used by these insurgents against Americans, civilian casualties tragically occur. We have been and remain determined and prepared to fight these charges and we are confident that Dustin Heard will be vindicated."

Lawyers for the other Blackwater guards declined to comment. Blackwater says it has cooperated with the investigation and officials say no criminal charges are expected against the company itself.

Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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