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Attorneys for Indicted Blackwater Guards Lash Out at Justice Dept.

Authorities have not publicly identified the guards.

The guards were working as Blackwater security contractors for the State Department when their convoy pulled into Nisoor Square and they opened fire.

An Iraqi government investigation concluded that the guards fired without provocation, and the U.S. military and the FBI found that the guards were the only ones who opened fire that day. Blackwater, which is not a target in the investigation, has consistently said the men were fired upon.

David Schertler, an attorney representing Heard, said the men "were defending themselves and their comrades who were . . . receiving fire from Iraqis they believed to be enemy insurgents."

Iraq's government and victims of the shooting expressed mixed emotions about the indictment.

"Subjugating this company to a trial makes the Iraqi government happy," said Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman. "We welcome this step."

He added that the Iraqi government is considering suing Blackwater in a U.S. court to seek compensation for the victims.

Mahdi Abdul-Khudor, who lost an eye in the incident, said he hoped the court would punish the contractors. "This matter makes me happy, and I hope they will receive a just penalty," Khudor said. "They took my eye, the better part of me. I hope the court will give me justice."

The shooting damaged relations between the United States and the Iraqi government and raised serious questions about oversight of U.S. security contractors in war zones. The Iraqi parliament recently approved a security pact that allows foreign security contractors accused of crimes to be tried under Iraqi law.

Sources familiar with the case said the government is bringing the charges under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which has been used in cases referred to federal prosecutors by the Defense Department for crimes committed by military personnel overseas. The guards are likely to face assault charges, and some may face charges under a 1980s drug law that made it a crime to use a machine gun in a crime of violence, according to the sources.

Some legal scholars and the defense lawyers have argued that the law does not apply to the Blackwater guards because they were working for the State Department. Such a position was buttressed by the Congressional Budget Office in a report in August that said the law does not apply to civilians working for agencies other than the Defense Department.

Prosecutors are likely to argue that a 2005 amendment to the law expanded it to include contractors "supporting the mission of the Department of Defense." Prosecutors could argue that Blackwater security guards were helping the military by protecting State Department officials, legal experts have said.

Special correspondent Qais Mizher in Baghdad contributed to this report.


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