Commentary: Blackwater guards become defendants

This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

A standoff of stories has been in place since Sept. 16, 2007, when a shooting in a crowded square in Baghdad left 17 people dead. Security guards from Blackwater Worldwide, a private contractor headquartered in Moyock in northeastern North Carolina, were on the scene, and now have been charged in 14 of the deaths.

Five Blackwater guards face 14 counts of manslaughter and 20 counts of attempted manslaughter. There is one count of using a machine gun to commit a crime of violence. Federal prosecutors filed the charges. The men turned themselves in in Utah, where one lives.

The guards, who are all decorated military veterans, are claiming self-defense, and say that they feared a bomb attack and were protecting themselves. Witnesses have said the contractors opened fire without provocation. Prosecutors say women and children were killed, and one man was shot as he had his hands raised to surrender.

The incident further provoked debate over the use of private contractors in Iraq, and Blackwater, working for the State Department, is the largest U.S. security contractor there. Though the company and the government insist there are strict lines of authority and responsibility that distinguish Blackwater operatives from members of the military, the appearance that day in Baghdad was the same to the civilians, and the resulting worldwide protests reflected on both the company and the government.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.