Probe of Blackwater Killing Moves Forward 
By Gene Johnson 
TruthOut/The Associated Press

 

Seattle – A Justice Department team has traveled to Iraq to investigate the fatal shooting of an Iraqi guard by a security contractor, hastening the resolution of questions about whether US attorneys can prosecute him, an official said Thursday.

The contractor, Andrew Moonen of Seattle, was fired by Blackwater USA but never prosecuted and eventually given an overseas job by another contractor. The shooting outraged Iraqis, who questioned how an American could go free under such circumstances.

The team sent to Iraq included two federal prosecutors, a Seattle FBI agent and a prosecutor from Justice’s domestic security section in Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan in Seattle told The Associated Press.

They were scheduled to leave Baghdad on Friday after spending a week in Iraq, Sullivan said.

The trip followed a long analysis of whether U.S. prosecutors can bring charges if there is evidence of a crime. It also involved months of logistical planning and represents a significant step in determining whether Moonen will be charged.

Sullivan said he expects to make a decision by summer’s end.

“I believe at this point we have jurisdiction, but if we charge this case, that will be one of the issues that has to be litigated,” Sullivan said.

“I think they were able to interview most of the witnesses they needed to talk to, and that should put me in a position to make a knowledgeable decision,” the prosecutor said.

The case, like the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater guards last September, highlights the murky issue of whether security contractors can be held liable for actions in the war zone.

By U.S. order, the contractors are immune from Iraqi law. But the U.S. Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 provides that any member of the military, Department of Defense worker or contractor, or anyone “supporting the mission of the Department of Defense overseas,” can be prosecuted in the U.S. for crimes committed abroad.

Blackwater has a State Department contract to provide security for diplomats; prosecutors could argue that constitutes support of the Defense Department’s mission.

Moonen’s lawyer, Stewart Riley, declined to comment except to say that he was aware the Justice Department team was traveling to Iraq and that he hoped to meet with prosecutors soon. His client is not giving interviews, he said.

Moonen, 27, was wandering drunk around Baghdad’s Green Zone after a party on Christmas Eve 2006 when he fatally shot a 32-year-old guard to Iraqi Vice President Adil Abd-al-Mahdi, according to a congressional report on the case. He reported the shooting at a nearby post for another contractor, Triple Canopy, saying he had been in a gunfight with Iraqis.

Blackwater arranged to have the State Department fly him back to the United States, fired him and fined him, and paid the slain guard’s family $15,000.

Two months later, Moonen got a job in Kuwait with Defense Department contractor Combat Support Associates. Because Blackwater and State Department officials had kept the shooting quiet, Combat Support said, it was unaware of Moonen’s history when it hired him. He stopped working for that contractor in August 2007.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said the company is cooperating with the investigation.

“If it is determined that he acted unlawfully, we would strongly support holding him accountable,” she said.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., expressed frustration at how long the investigation has taken.

“I’m glad someone is finally trying to get to the bottom of things,” she said. “It shouldn’t have taken this long, but hopefully we’ll soon see some closure.”

Sullivan agreed that the case has taken longer than he would like, but said, “That’s what’s necessary in this kind of a case” because of its legal, factual and logistical complexity.

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