Today, we also announce the unsealing of a guilty plea by a sixth defendant, Jeremy P. Ridgeway , age 35, of California , who entered a guilty plea on December 5, 2008 , here in Washington, D.C. before Judge Ricardo Urbina . He pleaded to 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, an employee of Blackwater Worldwide. He pleaded 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, quote, "in support of the mission of the Department of Defense overseas" end quote.
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 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, too, would like to commend the FBI agents who investigated the case, the prosecutors from my office, and those from the National Security Division for all their hard work on this investigation. They labored for a long time under very difficult circumstances. 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: Thanks, Jeff.
Good afternoon. As Assistant Attorney General Rowan and United States Attorney Jeff Taylor have indicated, we are here today due to unprecedented circumstances. I would first like to thank the career prosecutors, agents, linguists, forensic experts, for their dedication and work on this very complex and challenging investigation. This investigative team exemplifies the outstanding work by public servants who are working every day to make this nation and the 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 United States government, who are an integral part of our success in the continued pursuit of excellence. As U.S. Attorney Taylor has indicated, we are here today 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 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 a busy traffic circle at Nisur Square, the 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 citizens were traumatized, injured or killed.