It could not have been a good day to be a prosecutor — or anyone involved with the prosecution — in the case against five Blackwater guards charged with manslaughter related to the deaths of 17 Iraqis in 2007.
Federal District Judge Ricardo Urbina threw out the case and made it clear that, in his opinion, the case was screwed up pretty much from the beginning.
“In their zeal to bring charges, prosecutors and investigators aggressively sought out statements in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and in the subsequent investigation,” Urbina wrote. “In doing so, the government’s trial team repeatedly disregarded the warnings of experienced, senior prosecutors, assigned to the case, specifically to advise the trial team.”
Prosecutors must have realized they were in trouble from the minute they picked up Urbina’s opinion and saw that
he was opening with a quote from a 1966 opinion by Potter Stewart that reminds people that the privilege protecting against self-incrimination is vital to the integrity of the judicial system.
Urbina makes it clear in his opinion that the prosecutors probably needed to be reminded.
He starts off by pointing out that the defendants contend their rights were violated by the government which used statements made to State Department investigators “under a threat of job loss.”
He points out the government concedes “many of these statements qualify as compelled statements.”
He points out that “the Fifth Amendment automatically confers use and derivative use immunity on” compelled statements, which “means that in seeking an indictment from a grand jury or conviction at trial, the government is prohibited from using such compelled statements or any evidence obtained as a result of those statements.”
He then points out that the”the government has also acknowledged that its investigators, prosecutors and key witnesses were exposed to (and, indeed, aggressively sought out) many of the statements given by the defendants to State Department investigators.”
Judge Urbina writes that “the government used the defendants compelled statements to guide its charging decisions, to formulate its theory of the case, to develop investigatory leads and to obtain the indictment.”
If that wasn’t enough, Urbina adds: “the government’s key witnesses immersed themselves in the defendants’ compelled statements.”
And when the prosecutors were called to the carpet on the issue, Urbina writes “the explanations offered by the prosecutors and investigators in an attempt to justify their actions and persuade the court that they did not use the defendants’ compelled testimony were all too foten contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility.”
“In short,” Urbina concluded, “the government has utterly failed to prove that it made no impermissible use of the defendants’ statements or that such use was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the court must dismiss the case against all of the defendants.”
Now, here’s the thing….
Clearly, something went very wrong that day in 2007 and someone should be held accountable. From the Iraqi point of view — and really from the point of view of anyone with feelings, I would think — 17 people were murdered because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe the guards weren’t the first to fire but that doesn’t really bring those people back to life.
So, while I think your heart has to go out to the families and friends of those killed, I think you also have to take some solace in the fact that the judicial system worked the way it was supposed to. The prosecution was sloppy and they paid the price.