Commentary: Hold Blackwater guards accountable

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

The indictment of five Blackwater guards for a wild shooting spree in a crowded Baghdad traffic circle last year shows that the federal government is serious about bringing justice in the case. Many people in the U.S., Iraq and around the world have doubted whether anyone involved in the incident would be held liable. That's understandable because of the difficulty of prosecuting a case that emanates from a war zone and because private contractors have had broad immunity for their actions in Iraq.

The indictment, however, shows that the Bush administration is determined to fulfill its promise to thoroughly investigate the episode and punish anyone who acted wrongly. The case still will be difficult to prosecute, but testimony from a sixth Blackwater guard – who has pleaded guilty to manslaughter – greatly strengthens the Justice Department's case.

In separate investigations, FBI, Iraqi and U.S. military officials have gathered evidence for months. All of the investigations indicate that Blackwater guards fired without provocation at civilians and traffic police in the busy intersection, killing 17 people and wounding at least 20 others, including women and children. Video footage taken by New York Times journalists shows that some of the cars were fired on after drivers made U-turns to flee the conflagration. At least one vehicle appeared to have been hit by a round fired from a helicopter.

Blackwater officials said the guards were firing in response to an attack. However, a prosecutor in the case said investigators found no evidence that any of the people killed posed a threat to the guards. He blamed the incident on a handful of guards, and said most of the guards in the convoy behaved professionally.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.