In a gift from the ruins of the Bush administration, a federal judge has thrown out charges against the five former Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour Square killings that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead and 20 wounded because the government violated the constitutional rights of the guards by using forced statements against them.
The New Year's Eve ruling by District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina did not speak to the legality of the indiscriminate killings in Baghdad in September 2007. It stopped short of stating that Bush administration prosecutors had thrown the case, but it is difficult to conclude otherwise since prosecutors were repeatedly warned of the illegality of using the so-called compelled statements that were a consequence of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's ham-handed handling of the incident.
The Constitution prevents the government from requiring a defendant to testify against himself, so the compelled statements could not be used in a prosecution.
The ruling complicates if not altogether scuttles an appeal, let alone trying the guards in a U.S. court, while they cannot be prosecuted under Iraqi law because of an immunity agreement that had been signed by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the governing authority installed by the U.S. after the invasion of Iraq.
"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 often contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility," Urbina wrote.
Prosecutors did not charge Blackwater itself, but the families of several of the Iraqis who were killed have filed a civil lawsuit against the company, now called Xe Services.
"It is regrettable that the prosecutors didn’t have the foresight to be able to deal with this problem before the judge had to deal with it for them," said Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the group that is bringing the suit.
I've asked this question before and I'll ask it again: Did Rice, as national security adviser to George Bush and later his secretary of state, ever do anything of consequence without royally screwing it up?