[JURIST] Five indicted Blackwater USA [corporate website; JURIST news archive] guards involved in the September 2007 killings of 17 Iraqi civilians [JURIST report] on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to federal manslaughter and weapons charges. The guards appeared in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] Tuesday after a federal judge in Utah ruled last month [JURIST report] that the proceedings could not be transferred to Utah. The trial is set to begin February 1.
The five guards were indicted [text, PDF; JURIST report] last month on charges of voluntary manslaughter, attempt to commit manslaughter, and using and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, which carries a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence. The indictments were unsealed [JURIST report] two days later. A sixth guard pleaded guilty [text, PDF] to charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter for his role in the same incident. The Blackwater incident caused domestic outrage in Iraq and has prompted legal controversy in the US. In November, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation into the incident concluded that the shootings were unjustified [JURIST report]. Last month Bush administration officials announced that Iraq security contractors would be losing immunity from Iraqi law under the recently approved [JURIST reports] US Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq.