Moments ago, officials with the Department of Justice wrapped up a press conference at which they are publicizing the charges — previously contained in a sealed indictment — against the five former Blackwater guards charged with manslaughter in the deadly September 2007 shootings of 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians.
The case has been assigned to a US District Court in Washingotn DC, but defense lawyers want the case moved to Utah, where one of the former guards lives, and where they would presumably find a more conservative, pro-gun jury, reports the Associated Press.
The ex-guards could face 30-year sentences under an anti-machine gun law designed to target drug offenders.
We’re also seeing an interesting emerging defense strategy of suggesting that DOJ is bowing to Iraqi pressure: “We are confident that any jury will see this for what it is: a politically motivated prosecution to appease the Iraqi government,” Steven McCool, who represents one of the defendants, told the AP.
One ex-Blackwater guard, Jeremy Ridgewater, has already come to a plea deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
Blackwater is the largest security contractor in Iraq.
Late Update: In a lengthy statement emailed to TPMmuckraker, Blackwater responds:
Blackwater does not have access to all of the information gathered by federal investigators. Based on the information available to us, we understand that these individuals acted within the rules set forth for them by the government and that no criminal violations occurred.
As noted by the Department of Justice during its press conference, Blackwater as a company has not been charged with any crimes, and neither have any of the hundreds of other Blackwater professionals serving in Iraq.