Criticism Mounts as Nisour Square Prosecution Continues

Criticism Mounts as Nisour Square Prosecution Continues

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is proceeding full steam ahead with the prosecution of several former Blackwater guards who served in Iraq, much to the chagrin of many people.

Given the issues in the case and the somewhat political nature of the prosecutions, many hoped that Attorney General Sessions would at least order a review of the case. But that has not happened, and a number of people are very unhappy. Many have made comments that should not be repeated on a family-friendly website, but they all essentially accuse Mr. Sessions of an unwillingness to go the distance to protect President Donald Trump’s allies, or perhaps even of outright disloyalty. Mr. Sessions has already recused himself from the ongoing investigation into President Trump’s ties with Russia, a move that some see as political self-preservation.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ brother and a close Trump adviser.

The Nisour Square Saga

What began as a symbol of everything that could go wrong in a privatized war quickly became a symbol of what happens when a government looks for someone to blame when things go sideways.

In 2007, a group of Blackwater contractors were escorting a convoy through a crowded sector of Bagdad. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the contractors opened fire. Apparently, the group had received intelligence that a white compact car might be carrying suicide bombers, someone spotted a similar vehicle, and the rest is lost in the fog of war. When it was over, several civilians were dead or injured.

Michael Mukasey, the last Attorney General to serve under President George W. Bush, charged six Blackwater workers with weapons infractions and/or manslaughter, citing violations of a law that is normally used in drug trafficking contexts. One person pleaded guilty and turned state’s evidence against the other five. But the prosecution ran into problems, and not just because of the difficulty of proving criminal liability beyond a reasonable doubt. A judge later threw out the case on a technicality.

Undaunted, and under extreme political pressure, Attorney General Eric Holder, a Barack Obama appointee, reinstated the prosecutions after making a few alterations to make the cases more winnable. Government lawyers prevailed at trial and secured lengthy prison sentences. But an appeals court eventually threw out the cases, citing a number of disturbing factors, including:

  • Withheld photos of spent AK-47 shell casings at the scene, which would have supported the defendant’s contention that they were returning fire,
  • Excessive sentences that violated the cruel and unusual punishments provision of the Eighth Amendment, and
  • Withheld testimony from a key eyewitness.

The defense also contends that all the evidence in the case is tainted because no one secured the “crime scene,” the government used illegal forum-shopping to prosecute the cases in Washington, and there is a lack of physical evidence (none of the fatal shots were connected to the defendants’ weapons).

Now, Attorney General Sessions, who is facing political pressure from both Congress and Donald Trump supporters, has evidently given his stamp of approval to the prosecutions, so the story is not over yet.

Contractors in Iraq

As is so often the case, contractors in Iraq participate in both combat and reconstruction operations, and they face dangers in both areas.

In the first Gulf War and in many other prior conflicts, contractors may not have faced the same dangers as servicemembers. By law, contractors are purely defensive. They verify IDs at checkpoints, escort VIPs on inspection tours, and so on. But there is no “rear area” in anti-insurgency campaigns like the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, so these individuals are never even reasonably safe.

Ironically, reconstruction and rebuilding contractors may be in more danger than combat contractors. Construction sites are some of the most dangerous workplaces in the world. They are even more hazardous if the government is not fully functioning and therefore not inspecting and regulating these jobsites. In places like the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, where Americans are not particularly welcome in the first place, the few inspectors may not be as diligent on contractor-dominated worksites.

Furthermore, like their combat counterparts, militants may attack construction contractors at any moment. These individuals are essentially defenseless against such attacks, even though there are usually armed contractors or soldiers onsite or nearby.

Obtaining Compensation

Being injured on the job is bad enough, but being injured on the job while in a foreign country is even worse. Since there is a need for both quality medical care and additional peace of mind in these instances, lawmakers passed the Defense Base Act in 1941. This law provides benefits to injured contractors who serve on behalf of the U.S. government in any war zone, a phrase that is broadly defined as any country where the U.S. has a military presence. That would include almost all nations of the world.

To receive compensation for lost wages and medical expenses, contractors must only show a relationship between their injury and the reason they are in-country. That is a different standard than the one in workers’ compensation cases. Contractors do not necessarily need to be injured while they are “on the job,” or even while they are only performing services that benefit their employers, to receive compensation. For example, if a contractor goes for a swim partially for recreational purposes and partially to stay in shape for his job, the DBA may cover any injuries.

Many claims settle after a sometimes lengthy back-and-forth negotiation between the insurance company and the victim’s lawyer. Other claims proceed to either a formal settlement conference or a trial-like adversarial hearing. At said hearing, an attorney can introduce evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and make legal arguments. Furthermore, the victim usually receives benefits that are retroactive to the date of the claim.

Reach out to Barnett, Miller, Karsen & Frankel, P.A. for more information about the available DBA benefits.