The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to consider throwing out manslaughter and weapons charges against four former Blackwater Worldwide security guards stemming from 2007 shootings in Baghdad that killed 14 Iraqi civilians.
The former guards, who were working as U.S. government contractors in Iraq, said in their appeal to the high court that the government's case against them was based on information they gave in interviews with State Department officials after the shooting. Because the men were threatened with firing if they refused to give statements, they say, the prosecutors' use of that information violates their constitutional rights against self-incrimination.
A federal judge in Washington agreed, and had dismissed the charges, saying prosecutors violated the Fifth Amendment by using the guards' statements to help guide their investigation, identify individuals to prosecute and gather evidence.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reinstated the cases last year and sent them back to the trial court. The court did order the judge to conduct a more thorough review to separate information the prosecutors had obtained independently from that based on self-incriminating interviews.
The Supreme Court left the appeals court order intact yesterday. The guards had asked the justices to restrict the government's ability to rely on compelled, self-incriminating testimony as a guide to further investigation and to prevent prosecutors from directly using the information as evidence. Justice Elena Kagan didn't take part in the action.
The Blackwater security firm changed its name to Academi and is based in Arlington, Va.
The guards had been hired to protect State Department personnel and are accused of shooting at unarmed civilians near Nisur Square in Baghdad after a car bomb exploded in September 2007.
The men say members of their unit shot in self-defense after coming under fire from insurgents. Prosecutors allege that they opened fire "recklessly and unjustifiably."