Blackwater Commander’s Defiance Faces Exposure

     (CN) – A federal judge refused to sideline evidence that a Blackwater commander whose men allegedly engaged in unprovoked firefight that left 14 Iraqis dead disobeyed a direct order to stay in the Baghdad Green Zone.
     Former Blackwater Worldwide security guards Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard are charged with voluntary manslaughter and firearms violations connected to the Sept. 16, 2007, shooting in Nisour Square that left 14 Iraqi civilians dead and 20 injured. A fifth member of the Raven 23 unit, Nicholas Slatten, is charged with first-degree murder.
     Prosecutors have called the shooting unprovoked, but the former guards said insurgents had attacked their unit.
     Raven 23 had been ordered to evacuate a diplomat from the Izdihar Compound after a bomb exploded nearby, but Commander Jimmy Watson received an order to stand-by and not leave the Green Zone upon reaching a checkpoint there.
     Watson instead made a “tactical decision” to move out and secure Nisour Square so that the diplomat would have a safe evacuation route. He relayed his decision to Blackwater command and was once again told to return to the Green Zone.
     Since Watson’s communications with Blackwater command were broadcast to all the vehicles in the convoy, prosecutors wanted to show that the defendants were aware of their commander’s disobedience.
     Command gave Watson approval to lock down the traffic circle once his team reached Nisour Square. The shooting that resulted in criminal charges against the defendants erupted shortly thereafter.
     U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth rejected a motion by the defendants Monday to exclude testimony regarding Watson’s disobedience, possibly impeaching his credibility as a witness.
     Given Watson’s role in the incident, “he may have an incentive to make the threat appear more severe than it actually was to avoid personal consequences,” the 10-page ruling states. “He may also attempt to take some of the weight off his subordinates – the defendants – by emphasizing his role. Watson’s disobedience is one piece of his involvement in the shooting, and the jury should be permitted to weigh each of the pieces, including Watson’s disobedience, in assessing his credibility and his conscious or unconscious motivations for making specific claims in this case.”
     It is highly likely that a jury would be familiar with the military chain of command and understand that defendants did not have any control over the decision to leave the Green Zone, the judge added.
     Another section of the ruling forbids the government from presenting evidence that defendants knew about the order to remain in the Green Zone.
     Even if the defendants knew they were not supposed to be in Nisour Square, “such knowledge has no bearing on whether they thought they were being attacked or not,” the opinion states.
     Last week, the judge permitted the government to enter evidence that defendants bragged about killing Iraqis, fired their weapons indiscriminately and threw objects at civilians prior to the incident in Nisour Square.
     Prosecutors previously dismissed charges against Donald Ball, a fifth member of the unit. Jeremy Ridgeway, a sixth Raven 23 teammate originally charged in 2008, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

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