WASHINGTON - The Justice Department intends to drop manslaughter and weapons charges against one of the Blackwater Worldwide security guards involved in a deadly 2007 Baghdad shooting, prosecutors said in court documents yesterday.
The shooting in busy Nisoor Square left 17 Iraqis dead and inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad. It touched off a string of investigations that ultimately led the State Department to cancel the company’s lucrative contract to guard diplomats in Iraq.
Iraqis have said they’re watching closely to see how the US judicial system handles the five men accused of unleashing an unprovoked attack on civilians with machine guns and grenades.
A one-paragraph notice filed yesterday says only that prosecutors have asked that the case against Nicholas Slatten of Sparta, Tenn., be dropped. The government’s detailed request asking the judge to dismiss the case was filed with the court and with the defendant, but was not made public.
Prosecutors filed the request in a way that allows them to file new charges against Slatten later. There is no indication in the documents whether they intend to.
Slatten’s attorney, Thomas Connolly, said he could not comment on the court documents but said Slatten has maintained his innocence all along. Slatten was an Army sniper who served two tours in Iraq before joining Blackwater.
The request itself was sealed, so it’s unclear why the case was being dropped. But it could be a bad sign for the government. After the shooting, some guards spoke to investigators under the promise of immunity. Prosecutors have been arguing behind closed doors that the immunity deal did not taint the case.
The case against the remaining four guards is set for trial in February.