[JURIST] The US Justice Department has sent so-called target letters [backgrounder] to six Blackwater USA [corporate website; JURIST news archive] guards involved in the September 16 killings of 17 Iraqi civilians [JURIST report], the Washington Post [media website] reported Sunday. Sources told the Post that the letters, which provide an opportunity for the recipients to contest grand jury evidence, indicate the Justice Department will likely seek indictments against at least some of the guards under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) [text]. Indictments against the Blackwater employees under the MEJA would mark the first time that State Department contractors were prosecuted under the Act, which allows criminal charges to be filed against contractors working for the Department of Defense. The sources explained that a final decision on whether to indict the men may not be made until October. The Washington Post has more.
The Blackwater incident caused domestic outrage in Iraq and has prompted legal controversy in the US. In November, the New York Times and the Washington Post [texts] reported that an FBI investigation into the incident concluded that the shootings were unjustified [JURIST report] and last month Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced that private security contractors operating in Iraq may be stripped of their immunity from prosecution [JURIST report] under a US-Iraqi agreement currently in negotiations. Advocacy group Human Rights First [advocacy website] issued a report [PDF text] in January asserting that existing federal law is sufficient to prosecute private contractors using excessive violence in their overseas capacities, and that the US government is to blame for failing to "develop a clear policy with respect to the accountability of private contractors for crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan." The report says that the MEJA could be extended to State Department contractors, but that the US has failed to do so.