WASHINGTON , Dec. 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following remarks are being released by the U.S. Department of Justice:
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL PATRICK ROWAN :
Good afternoon. My name is Pat Rowan . I'm the Assistant Attorney General for National Security.
I am joined on stage by Jeffrey Taylor , the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia , and Joseph Persichini, Jr. , the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office. The prosecutors on this case, Kenneth Kohl , Jonathan Malis , and Barry Jonas , are also here with us today.
I'll provide some brief remarks, and then turn over the podium to Jeff and Joe for further comment. Afterwards, we'll be happy to take your questions.
We are here today to announce that a 35-count indictment has been unsealed in the District of Columbia . As you are aware, an indictment is merely a formal charging document notifying a defendant of the charges against him or her. All defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
The indictment unsealed today charges five Blackwater security guards with voluntary manslaughter, attempt to commit manslaughter, and weapons violations for their alleged roles in the Sept. 16, 2007 shooting at Nisur Square in Baghdad, Iraq .
Specifically, the defendants are charged with killing 14 unarmed civilians and wounding 20 other individuals in connection with this event.
In addition, we can report that a sixth Blackwater security guard has pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter for his role in the same shooting. This guilty plea also was unsealed today.
While there were dangers in Baghdad in September 2007 , there were also ordinary people going about their lives, performing mundane daily tasks like making their way through a crowded traffic circle.
For the safety of these people, as well as U.S. government personnel and their own colleagues, security guards were obligated to refrain from firing their powerful weapons except when necessary for self-defense.
The documents unsealed today allege that these six men disregarded that obligation and, in doing so, violated U.S. law. The consequences were devastating.
The government alleges in the documents unsealed today that at least 34 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, were killed or injured without justification or provocation by these Blackwater security guards in the shooting at Nisur Square.
Today's indictment and guilty plea should serve as a reminder that those who engage in unprovoked and illegal attacks on civilians -- whether during times of conflict or times of peace - will be held accountable.
I'd like to thank the FBI for its tremendous work investigating this crime, as well as the prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's office and the National Security Division for their efforts in bringing this case. I'd also like to thank Iraqi authorities for their assistance in the case.
I'd now like to introduce Jeff Taylor .
U.S. ATTORNEY JEFFREY TAYLOR :
Thank you, Pat. Good morning everyone.
As Pat mentioned, the 35-count indictment that was unsealed today charges five security guards of Blackwater Worldwide with manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and weapons violations for their alleged roles in the tragic September 16, 2007 shooting at Nisur Square in Baghdad, Iraq . Nisur Square is located just outside a fortified area of central Baghdad , known as the "International Zone" and commonly known as the "Green Zone," where most, if not all, of the foreign embassies in Iraq are located, including the United States Embassy.
As set forth in the indictment, the five defendants were all employed by the Armed Forces outside the United States . Specifically, the defendants worked as independent contractors and employees of Blackwater Worldwide, a company contracted by the Department of State to provide personal security services related to supporting the Department of Defense in the Republic of Iraq , within the meaning of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (or "MEJA").
On September 16, 2007 , the five defendants and 14 other Blackwater independent contractors were assigned to a convoy of four heavily-armored trucks known as a Tactical Support Team, using the call sign "Raven 23," whose function was to provide back-up fire support for other Blackwater personal security guards operating in the city of Baghdad .
On September 16, 2007 , at around noon, the Raven 23 convoy was responding to the detonation of a vehicle-born improvised explosive device that had just exploded in the vicinity of a different Blackwater personal security detail located about a mile away from Nisur Square, and which was transporting a U.S.A.I.D. protectee.
The members of the Raven 23 convoy understood that their mission was defensive in nature. They were not permitted to engage in offensive military actions, use the military tactic known as "suppressive fire," or exercise police powers. They also understood that they were only authorized to discharge their firearms in self-defense and as a last resort.
The four heavily-armored vehicles in the Raven 23 convoy entered Nisur Square and then positioned themselves in order to block any traffic from entering the circle. Seconds after the Raven 23 convoy entered the traffic circle, it is alleged that at least six members of the Raven 23 convoy, including the five defendants named in the indictment, opened fire with automatic weapons and grenade launchers on unarmed civilians located in and around Nisur Square, killing at least 14 persons, wounding at least 20 other individuals, and assaulting but not injuring at least 18 others.
The first victim was later identified as a second-year medical student named Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia'y , who was driving a white Kia sedan that was approaching the traffic circle from the south. The passenger of that vehicle was also shot and killed. That victim was Dr. Al-Khazali, the mother of the driver of the vehicle.
None of the victims of this shooting was armed. None was an insurgent. Many were shot while inside civilian vehicles that were attempting to flee from the convoy. One victim was shot in the chest, while standing in the street with his hands up. Another was injured from a grenade fired into a nearby girls' school. At least 18 civilian vehicles were damaged by gunfire from the convoy, some substantially.
The indictment does not charge or implicate Blackwater Worldwide. It charges only the actions of certain employees for their roles in the September 16th shooting.
1. Paul A. Slough , 29, of Keller, Texas ;
2. Dustin L. Heard , 27, Maryville, Tennessee ;
3. Evan S. Liberty , 26, Rochester, New Hampshire ;
4. Nicholas A. Slatten , 23, of Sparta, Tennessee ; and
5. Donald W. Ball , 26, West Valley City, Utah .
All five defendants are each charged with 14 counts of voluntary manslaughter, 20 counts of attempt to commit manslaughter, and one count of using and discharging a firearm and destructive devices during and in relation to a crime of violence. The firearms included an SR-25 sniper rifle, M-4 assault rifles and M-240 machine guns. The destructive devices were M-203 grenade launchers and grenades.
If convicted of the charges, the defendants could face up to 10 years in prison on each manslaughter count, seven years in prison on each attempted manslaughter count, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years on the firearm charge.
We remind the public that an indictment is merely a formal charging document notifying a defendant of the charges against him. All defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
It is our understanding that earlier today, the defendants surrendered in Utah and will have a court appearance in U.S. District Court there later today.
Today, we also announce the unsealing of a guilty plea by a sixth defendant, Jeremy P. Ridgeway , 35, of California , who entered a guilty plea on December 5, 2008 , here in Washington, D.C. , before Judge Ricardo Urbina to a superseding information charging him with one count of voluntary manslaughter and one count of attempt to commit manslaughter.
Like the five defendants charged in the indictment, Mr. Ridgeway was an independent contractor and employee of Blackwater Worldwide. He pled guilty to charges in connection with his role in the September 16th shooting at Nisur Square. His sentencing date has not yet been set by the court.
This indictment represents the first prosecution under MEJA to be filed against non-Defense Department private contractors, which was not possible prior to 2004 amendments that specifically expanded the reach of MEJA to non-Defense Department contractors who provide services "in support of the mission of the Department of Defense overseas."
We take no pleasure in charging individuals whose job it was to protect the men and women of our country. But when individuals are alleged to have violated the law while carrying out those duties, we are duty bound to hold them accountable as no one is above the law, even when our country is engaged in war. This indictment is the first step of that process, and it is the virtue of our system that these individuals will have their day in court.
It bears emphasis that today's indictment is very narrow in its allegations. Six individual Blackwater guards have been charged with unjustified shootings on September 16, 2007 , not the entire Blackwater organization in Baghdad . There were 19 Blackwater guards on the Raven 23 team that day at Nisur Square. Most acted professionally, responsibly and honorably. Indeed, this indictment should not be read as an accusation against any of those brave men and women who risk their lives as Blackwater security contractors.
Before turning the podium over to FBI Assistant Director in Charge Joseph Persichini, I would like to commend the FBI agents and the prosecutors from my Office and the National Security Division at the Department for all of their hard work on this investigation. They labored under very difficult circumstances and today is the result of that labor. Because we're only at the indictment stage, we are limited in what we can say at this time, but we look forward to proving our case at trial.
FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR IN-CHARGE JOSEPH PERSICHINI, JR.:
As Assistant Attorney General Rowan and U.S. Attorney Taylor have indicated, we are here today due to unprecedented circumstances:
I want to first thank the career prosecutors, investigators, analysts, linguists and forensic experts for their undivided dedication and work on this very complex and challenging investigation. This investigative team exemplifies the outstanding work by public servants working everyday to make this nation and this world a safer place to live.
I also want to highlight the thousands of men and women who serve as contractors and civilian employees to the U.S. Government who are an integral part of our success and continued pursuit of excellence.
As U.S. Attorney Taylor has indicated we are here to announce the indictment of five United States citizens on charges that include manslaughter and attempted manslaughter relating to the deaths of 14 foreign citizens and the wounding of 20 other individuals in an incident that took place on the other side of the world. The individuals charged today displayed a blatant disregard for the core values of the United States Constitution and failed to adhere to the Rule of Law and the respect for human life. These individuals must be held accountable for their actions not just for the integrity of the American people but for the Iraqi men, women and children whose lives have been destroyed.
The tragic events in Nisur Square on September 16 of last year were shocking and a violation of basic human rights.
That day in Baghdad , around the busy traffic circle at Nisur Square, Iraqi citizens were going to lunch, stopping at the market, traveling with their families and children. The traffic circle soon became congested due to construction, traffic slowed down, then gunshots rang out, at that moment many innocent lives were altered, unarmed civilians were traumatized, injured or killed.
Following this incident, the Department of State requested that the FBI investigate the shooting. The FBI's Washington Field Office deployed an investigative team to Baghdad for 4 weeks of evidence collection and investigation. The FBI team was augmented by 2 agents from the Diplomatic Security Service of the Department of State.
To add to the difficulty of an already challenging case, FBI and Department of State personnel had to face the dangers of working extensively outside the green zone, they had to overcome language barriers and deal with Cultural and Religious sensitivities.
Since that first deployment to Baghdad , members of the investigative team, which included up to 10 special agents, returned to Iraq 4 additional times in furtherance of their investigation.
The FBI utilized every resource available to ensure that a comprehensive and thorough investigation was conducted. Those resources included forensic specialists from the FBI Laboratory, members of the Washington Field Office's Evidence Response Team, and Department of Justice attorneys.
As a result of the tireless dedication and extraordinary efforts of the team, over 250 interviews were conducted and more than 200 pieces of physical evidence were obtained to support the investigation.
As with most FBI investigations, we would not have been successful without the assistance of local law enforcement partners. We had the extreme good fortune of working with members of the Iraqi National Police. The assistance provided by the Iraqi National Police was instrumental to the success of our mission. These officers work under extraordinarily challenging circumstances every day and I extend my gratitude to them.
In addition to the Iraqi National Police, the FBI was supported by many members of the United States Military. Their assistance was invaluable in the protection of our personnel.
The FBI's Legal Attache in Baghdad and U.S. Embassy personnel provided unwavering support during each of our team's deployments to Iraq . The success of one of the FBI's most difficult investigations was truly a team effort with many components and challenges.
What was at stake here was not just an investigation into an alleged violation of federal law, but more importantly it was an investigation into the protection of basic human rights that should be afforded to all people, not just citizens of the united states.
The FBI is committed to investigating all allegations of violations of the rule of law, and defending individuals' civil rights and civil liberties whether at home or abroad.
Thank you. We will now take a few questions.
SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice