The Justice Department is gathering testimony from Iraqi witnesses for a possible trial of Blackwater Worldwide security guards over a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. FBI agents and Justice Department attorneys arrived in Baghdad last week in order to conduct interviews as part of an investigation into the truth of what actually happened. An Iraqi police officer who witnessed the shooting was asked if anyone had fired on Blackwater security guards and he told the FBI team there was no attack on the Blackwater convoy and the shooting was entirely done by Blackwater personnel. Blackwater insists its guards were first fired on and were only responding to the shooting when Iraqi civilians got caught in the cross-fire. Initial reports by the U.S. military and the Iraqi government found no evidence of any ambush or firing on the convoy. Families of victims killed insist Blackwater guards initially opened fire on their cars.
Blackwater, like most private security firms, operates in a legal gray area. They are exempt from prosecution in Iraqi courts, but it is also unclear whether thay can be charged in American courts. The prosecution and conviction of Blackwater guards would have a powerful impact on Iraqis since it would demonstrate America’s commitment to democracy.