US top court rejects Blackwater Iraq shooting appeal
9:30 AM CDT, June 4, 2012
* Deadly Baghdad shooting in 2007 strained U.S.-Iraqi ties
* At issue self-incrimination rights over statements to
* High-profile U.S. Justice Department prosecution
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON, June 4 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on
Monday rejected an appeal by four Blackwater Worldwide security
guards who argued prosecutors made improper use of their
statements to investigators in charging them with killing 14
Iraqi civilians in 2007.
The justices refused to review a ruling by a U.S. appeals
court in Washington, D.C., that reinstated the criminal charges
against the guards for their roles in the Baghdad shooting that
outraged Iraqis and strained ties between the two nations.
The shooting occurred as the guards, U.S. State Department
security contractors, escorted a heavily armed four-truck convoy
of U.S. diplomats through the Iraqi capital on Sept. 16, 2007.
The guards, U.S. military veterans, responded to a car
bombing when gunfire erupted at a busy intersection. The guards
told State Department investigators they opened fire in
self-defense, but prosecutors said the shooting was an
unprovoked attack on civilians.
A federal judge ruled the defendants' constitutional right
against self-incrimination had been violated and the case was
tainted because prosecutors improperly used statements made by
the guards to the investigators right after the shooting.
But the appeals court disagreed that the indictment of the
guards had been improperly obtained through the use of their
compelled statements, a victory for the U.S. Justice Department
in a high-profile prosecution.
In appealing to the Supreme Court, the attorney for the
guards, Bruce Bishop, argued the government had compelled them
to make potentially incriminating statements. Later use of those
statements to charge the guards violated their constitutional
right against self-incrimination, he said.
"The issue is of national importance," Bishop said. "The
privilege against self-incrimination is a fundamental and
universal value in Anglo-American justice."
U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli from the Justice
Department urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal. He said
the evidence the government used to obtain the indictment was
based on legitimate sources independent of the guards' compelled
The four guards - Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard
and Donald Ball -- were employed by Blackwater, the
controversial private security company which has changed its
name to Xe Services and then to Academi.
In the Iraqi and Afghan wars, Blackwater came to symbolize
the U.S. policy of hiring private contractors to do work
previously handled by the military.
Prosecutors have dismissed charges against a fifth guard,
Nicholas Slatten. A sixth guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, already has
pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
The State Department had ordered the guards to explain to
investigators what happened under threat of job loss and had
promised them limited immunity. The Justice Department said
prosecutors and FBI investigators did not make improper use of
those statements in building their case.
The Supreme Court rejected the appeal without comment.
(Reporting By James Vicini; Editing by Anthony Boadle)
Copyright © 2012, Reuters
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