Overseas Civilian Contractors

News and issues relating to Civilian Contractors working Overseas

2nd ex-Blackwater worker Justin Cannon gets 30 months for manslaughter

by Bill Sizemore at The Virginian Pilot  June 27, 2011

A second former Blackwater contractor was sentenced to prison for involuntary manslaughter today in the 2009 shooting death of a civilian in Afghanistan.

Justin Cannon of Corpus Christi, Texas, was sentenced to 30 months by U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar.

A Virginia Beach man, Christopher Drotleff, received a 37-month sentence earlier this month for his actions in the same incident.

The two were charged with murder and convicted of the lesser charge in March after an earlier trial ended in a hung jury. They are the first contractors for the Moyock, N.C.-based security company now known as Xe Services to get prison time for killing a civilian in a war zone.

Cannon and Drotleff were working for a Blackwater subsidiary providing weapons training to the Afghan army under a Defense Department subcontract.

Please read the details at The Virginian Pilot

June 27, 2011 Posted by | Afghanistan, Blackwater, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Oversight, Legal Jurisdictions, Private Security Contractor | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ex-Blackwater worker gets 37 months in Afghan’s death

Bill Sizemore The Virginian Pilot  June 14, 2011

NORFOLK  A former Blackwater contractor from Virginia Beach was sentenced to 37 months in prison today for involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 shooting death of a civilian in Afghanistan.

Christopher Drotleff is the first contractor for the Moyock, N.C.-based security company now known as Xe Services to get prison time for killing a civilian in a war zone. A second man, Justin Cannon of Corpus Christi, Texas, has been convicted in the same case and faces sentencing later this month.

The two were charged with murder and tried twice. Their first trial, in September, ended in a hung jury. The manslaughter convictions in their March retrial appeared to be a compromise verdict.

Drotleff and Cannon were working for Paravant, a Blackwater subsidiary, providing weapons training for the Afghan army under a Defense Department subcontract when their two-vehicle convoy became involved in a traffic accident in Kabul, the Afghan capital, in May 2009.

They were off duty at the time and had been drinking, according to testimony.

Fareed Haji Ahmad, driving home from dinner with a co-worker, approached the scene in his Toyota Corolla and offered to help, he testified. He became confused, he said, when three men waved him on but a fourth told him to stop.

When he drove off, Drotleff and Cannon opened fire on the retreating vehicle, according to testimony. Ahmad’s passenger, Romal Mohammad Naiem, was killed.

A pedestrian, Rahib Mirza Mohammad, out walking with a friend and a dog, was also shot in the back of the head and died a month later. The contractors were acquitted of charges in his death.

Please read the entire story here

June 14, 2011 Posted by | Blackwater, Civilian Contractors, Legal Jurisdictions, Private Security Contractor, Xe | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Security contractors accused of killing civilians to be retried

CNN Justice Jury selection begins Tuesday in the retrial of two U.S. security contractors accused of killing two Afghanistan civilians.

In September, a federal judge declared a mistrial in the case against Christopher Drotleff and Justin Cannon after the jury in the case said they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Drotleff and Cannon worked as security contractors for a subsidiary of Xe, the military contracting firm formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide.

Each were charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in connection with a May 2009 shooting in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The 12-count, 19-page indictment returned by a federal grand jury in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia also included weapons charges against the two men.

Both Drotleff and Cannon were in Afghanistan working for the security company Paravant — a subsidiary of Xe — to help the U.S. Army train Afghan troops.

Drotleff, Cannon and two other contractors, Steven McClain and Armando Hamid, were driving their interpreters on a busy Kabul street called Jalalabad Road on May 5, 2009, when they said a car slammed into one of their two cars.  Please see the original here

The men said they got out to help their colleagues, and the vehicle that had struck the car did a U-turn and headed back at them.

The contractors said they fired at the oncoming vehicle in self-defense.

The incident spotlights the issue of the role and conduct of U.S. security contractors in Afghanistan.

A similar issue arose in Iraq after a September 2007 confrontation involving then-Blackwater contractors that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.

Blackwater lost its contract there after Iraq’s government refused to renew its operating license. The company then changed its name to Xe.

March 1, 2011 Posted by | Afghanistan, Blackwater, Civilian Contractors, Legal Jurisdictions, Private Security Contractor, Xe | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Former Blackwater workers face new slaying indictment

By Tim McGlone The Virginian-Pilot
A federal grand jury issued a new murder indictment against two former Blackwater security workers, charging one defendant with using a machine gun but reducing an attempted murder charge against both.

The grand jury didn’t change the most serious charges against Christopher Drotleff and Justin Cannon. They remain charged with second-degree murder and related counts in the May 5, 2009, shooting deaths of two Afghan nationals and the wounding of a third.

The defendants are scheduled to be arraigned next week on the new indictment, but the Sept. 14 trial date is not expected to change. The grand jury issued the indictment Aug. 5.

Drotleff, of Virginia Beach, and Cannon, of Corpus Christi, Texas, were working for a subsidiary of Blackwater, also known as Xe, to train the Afghan police force in Kabul. The indictment alleges they were drinking that day when they became involved in a traffic accident and began firing their weapons at another car.

Drotleff and Cannon say they fired in self-defense, in fear for their lives, at a car that was speeding toward them. The government counters that the victims were all shot from behind.

The new indictment replaces a firearm charge against Cannon with use of a machine gun during the killings. The new charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison on conviction. The murder charge carries no minimum but a maximum of life in prison.

Court records say that Cannon was armed with an AK-47 machine gun that day, and Drotleff had a handgun. It has been unclear who fired at which victim.

Both men are charged with aiding and abetting each other in the murders of Rahib Mirza Mohammad and Romal Mohammad Naiem and the wounding of Fareed Haji Ahmad. Ahmad and Naiem were in the car; Mohammad was a pedestrian.

In a related filing, U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar issued a lengthy ruling on several pre trial motions, including what evidence the government can and cannot use against the defendants.

Doumar ruled that the government can submit to the jury evidence that the two men were drinking alcohol the day of the shootings. The two have denied that they were drinking, and their attorneys sought to prevent the government from using any evidence to the contrary.

“The state of mind of defendants at the time of the incident in question is of paramount importance,” Doumar wrote. “In addition to providing, in part, the context of the alleged crime, any evidence of alcohol consumption might be directly probative of a material issue.”

However, he barred the government from admitting written policies on the use of alcohol by Blackwater or the Army, saying that “would be unfairly prejudicial” to the defendants.

The court is preparing to send out a questionnaire in an effort to get a jump on jury selection. The 21-page questionnaire asks potential jurors for background information, law enforcement or military connections, whether they’ve heard about the case or know the defendants, and whether they can be impartial in a case involving victims who are Afghan Muslims.

Drotleff and Cannon remain jailed pending trial.

The U.S. attorney’s office and lawyers for the defendants declined to comment on the latest developments.  Original Story here

August 12, 2010 Posted by | Afghanistan, Blackwater, Civilian Contractors, Legal Jurisdictions, Private Security Contractor | , , , | Leave a comment

Judge in Norfolk ponders sending men to Afghanistan

By Tim McGlone The Virginian-Pilot

A federal judge is considering sending two former Blackwater security workers charged with murder back to Afghanistan to confront a key witness who refuses to come to America to testify in the case.

Federal prosecutors are balking at the idea, citing logistical and safety concerns, but U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar said the constitutional right to confront witnesses might trump those concerns.

“The defendants have a right to confront witnesses,” Doumar said at a hearing Tuesday. “You’re face to face. That’s what confronting is.”

The government has suggested setting up a video feed with the witness in Afghanistan and the defendants here, with their lawyers able to ask questions and conduct cross examination.

The former Blackwater workers, Christopher Drotleff of Virginia Beach and Justin Cannon of Corpus Christi, Texas, are charged with killing two Afghan citizens and wounding a third after a traffic accident in Kabul in May 2009.

The government contends the two left an Army base without permission and had been drinking that day. Drotleff and Cannon say they fired in self-defense when the Afghans charged at them in a vehicle.

The government intends to fly in numerous Afghan witnesses. Dr. Mohammad Hassan Sahibi, who operated on one of the victims who was shot in the head, had initially agreed to come here for the September trial and testify that the victim did indeed die from the head wound.

Federal prosecutors informed the court last week that Sahibi now refuses to come. Sahibi is the only neurosurgeon in Kabul. He told the court that his leaving, even for a few days, “would deprive his patients of needed medical care and treatment that only he can provide,” the government said in a court filing.

Sahibi would be the only witness able to testify to an official cause of death for that one victim. The government cannot force a foreign national to come here to testify.

The defendants have refused to waive their right to confront Sahibi in person, as required by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution.

“The Supreme Court has told us over and over again that the confrontation clause means face to face, in person,” assistant federal public defender Larry Dash, one of Cannon’s lawyers, told Doumar.

No one could estimate the cost of such a trip, but Dash insisted it would be at the government’s expense.

“The government doesn’t care about expenses,” Doumar quipped.

Robert P. McGovern, a Department of Justice prosecutor, told the judge it would be “impractical and extremely dangerous to move them into an active war zone.” In addition, McGovern said, the Afghan government could conceivably seize Drotleff and Cannon as soon as they step off the airplane and prosecute them in Kabul. He argued that a video-taped deposition would be allowed under federal rules and would satisfy the Sixth Amendment as long as the defendants on this end were able to ask questions of the doctor.

But Doumar said he wasn’t convinced of the difficulties in sending the defendants to Afghanistan. He ordered the government to notify him by Friday of the specific security, safety and logistical obstacles. He would make a ruling then.  Original Story here

July 28, 2010 Posted by | Afghanistan, Blackwater, Civilian Contractors, Legal Jurisdictions | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Judge won’t drop charges against ex-Blackwater contractors

By Tim McGlone The Virginian-Pilot
NORFOLK

A federal judge today refused to throw out charges against two former Blackwater security workers accused of murdering two Afghan civilians, clearing the way for a September trial.

Lawyers for Christopher Drotleff and Justin Cannon challenged the constitutionality of the indictment against the two men, claiming that the long arm of the U.S. government cannot extend to Afghanistan soil.

U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar quickly dismissed that notion.

“You’re asking that he be sent back to Afghanistan” to face charges there? Doumar asked Cannon’s lawyer. “Is that what you really want?”

Drotleff and Cannon were charged under a 10-year-old act of Congress meant to close loopholes that prevented the government from charging nonmilitary civilians with crimes committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I think the act is constitutional,” Doumar said.

Drotleff, of Virginia Beach, and Cannon, of Texas, were employed by Paravant, a subsidiary of Blackwater (also known as Xe) in May 2009. They were based at Camp Alamo in Kabul, training the Afghan National Army on the use of weapons.

The indictment alleges that both men fired at unarmed Afghan civilians following a traffic accident in Kabul, killing two and wounding a third. The trial is set for Sept. 14.

July 9, 2010 Posted by | Afghanistan, Blackwater, Civilian Contractors, Private Security Contractor | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ex-Blackwater workers say U.S. charges are unlawful

By Tim McGlone The Virginian-Pilot
June 2, 2010    NORFOLK

Lawyers for two former Blackwater workers charged with murdering two Afghan civilians are mounting a constitutional challenge that has never been tested before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The government has had difficulties in the past gaining convictions against private contractors and military personnel for conduct in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This latest move represents the challenges faced by both sides in the murder case against Christopher Drotleff and Justin Cannon.

Both defendants filed a flurry of motions over the past two weeks seeking to have the case thrown out and, among other things, demanding the government turn over any evidence favorable to the defendants that it might have.

One joint motion calls for the dismissal of the indictment, arguing that Congress overstepped its authority when it passed a law, and several amendments, specifically targeting private contractors accused of crimes in war zones.

“Congress has attempted to expand federal criminal jurisdiction overseas in ways never imagined by the Founding Fathers,” Cannon’s attorneys wrote in a May 19 motion to dismiss.

The argument has been tried before, without success, but one federal judge in a similar case called it “rather strong.” Legal experts and a military analyst say the U.S. Supreme Court must eventually decide whether Congress went too far.  Read the full story here

June 2, 2010 Posted by | Afghanistan, Blackwater, Civilian Contractors, Legal Jurisdictions, Private Security Contractor | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Former Blackwater workers charged with murder mount challenge

By Tim McGlone The Virginian-Pilot
May 28, 2010  NORFOLK

Lawyers for two former Blackwater workers charged with murdering two Afghan civilians are mounting a constitutional challenge that has never been tested before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The government has had difficulties in the past gaining convictions against private contractors and military personnel for conduct in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This latest move is indicative of the challenges faced by both sides in the murder case against Christopher Drotleff and Justin Cannon.

Both defendants filed a flurry of motions over the past two weeks seeking to have the case thrown out and, among other things, demanding that the government turn over any exculpatory evidence it might have.

One joint motion calls for the dismissal of the indictment, arguing that Congress overstepped its authority when it passed a law, and several amendments, specifically targeting private contractors accused of crimes in war zones.

“Congress has attempted to expand federal criminal jurisdiction overseas in ways never imagined by the Founding Fathers,” Cannon’s attorneys wrote in a May 19 motion to dismiss.

The arguments has been tried before without success, but one federal judge in a similar case called the argument “rather strong.” Legal experts and a military analyst say the U.S. Supreme Court must eventually decide whether Congress went too far.

U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar will hear arguments in the case on July 9.

Drotleff, of Virginia Beach, and Cannon, of Texas, were employed by Blackwater (also known as Xe) subsidiary Paravant in May 2009. They were based at Camp Alamo in Kabul, training the Afghan National Army on the use of weapons.

On the night of May 5 last year, Drotleff, Cannon and two other Paravant workers were driving three Afghan nationals, who worked as interpreters and computer technicians for the Army and private contractors, to a taxi stand.

The new filing paints a different picture of the ensuing events than what prosecutors have alleged, adding new details supporting their self-defense claim:

Driving in two vehicles on Jalalabad Road, which the State Department describes as one of the most dangerous Afghan roads and one where travel is tightly restricted, the Paravant workers say they were concerned about the safety of the Afghans. Drotleff, armed with an Army-issued handgun, drove one vehicle with Cannon riding in back protecting the rear with an assault rifle.

A speeding car pulled up on them from the rear, passed Drotleff and then wedged in between them, striking the lead Paravant vehicle. That Paravant driver lost control and crashed into a wall, injuring everyone inside.

As Drotleff and Cannon tried to help the injured, the car that caused the accident, or another car just like it, began heading toward them “again at a high rate of speed,” according to the May 19 court filing.

“Fearing for their own safety and the safety of their fellow Paravant employees and the Afghans, the defendants fired their weapons at the approaching car,” the court filing states.

The approaching car suddenly turned down a side street and sped away. Drotleff and Cannon did not learn until later that they had struck two people in the car as well as a third bystander walking by.

The pedestrian, Rahib Mirza Mohammad, also known as Rahib Heleludin, was shot in the head. He slipped into a coma and died about a month later. His father told the Los Angeles Times that his son was walking home from prayers that evening.

The passenger in the car, Romal Mohammad Naiem, was killed and the driver, Fareed Haji Ahmad, also known as Sayd Kamal, injured. Witnesses told the Times that those two young men were driving home from work when they were fired upon for no reason. They were unarmed.

A federal grand jury here indicted Drotleff and Cannon in January on 13 charges of murder and illegal use of firearms. They remain jailed without bond pending trial on Sept. 14.

Prosecutors said Drotleff had been drinking that day and fired out of aggravation over an unintentional traffic accident. They also say the contractors left Camp Alamo without permission and took weapons without authorization.

But defense attorneys say they have reviewed statements – supplied by prosecutors, the defendants’ coworkers, investigators, interpreters and Afghan nationals – and none indicated that Drotleff or Cannon had been drinking or were intoxicated that day. They also cite a report by the Army’s lead investigator into the incident that said alcohol was not a factor.

The attorneys have also asked the judge in the case to prohibit prosecutors from introducing evidence showing that the defendants were fired or that they had left the base and carried weapons without permission, calling such information irrelevant.

A larger challenge looming in the case is whether the charges against the defendants are legal under the U.S. Constitution.

Drotleff and Cannon were charged under a relatively new section of law called the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, passed by Congress in 2000 and amended several times since. The act was meant to close loopholes that prevented the government from charging non-military civilians with crimes committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The act “goes well beyond the enumerated powers of Congress,” the attorneys argue. Congress is limited, they said, to punishing for offenses involving navigation, trade, diplomacy, war, terrorism, torture or piracy that occur outside traditional U.S. borders. None of those apply here, they say, not even war, because the middle of Kabul is not a traditional battlefield.

The same arguments failed in similar criminal cases against Iraq and Afghanistan contractors, currently pending in Louisiana and Washington. The Washington case, the now-notorious 2007 Nisoor Square mass killings in Baghdad by five Blackwater contractors, was ultimately dismissed for other reasons.

Columbia Law School professor Scott Horton, who consulted with Congress on some of the MEJA amendments, said the Founding Fathers would have considered it “preposterous” to prosecute anyone outside the United States during the American Revolution, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t give Congress the authority to change the law.

“In the course of the 20th Century, the U.S. began getting assertive,” he said. “We would say there were certain types of crimes that affected U.S. interests. MEJA was designed to deal with those cases.”

The alternative, he wondered, is to let the foreign nations prosecute the contractors, which would create obvious problems of fairness.

Horton said challenges to MEJA are only now making their way through the federal appeals courts.

Eugene Fidell, a Yale law professor and president of the National Institute of Military Justice at American University, said he too has been following the issue and sees a likely Supreme Court challenge, though not one that would likely favor Drotleff and Cannon.

“To say that Congress lacks authority I think is a very tough row to hoe,” he said. “Congress does make a number of crimes extraterritorial for good reason. Would people really prefer to be prosecuted by an Afghan court?”

David Isenberg, a military analyst and author of a book on private contractors in Iraq, sees it differently, as the federal government “attempting to fit square pegs in round holes.” Still, “no one can say what the Supreme Court is going to say or do,” he said.  Original Story here

May 28, 2010 Posted by | Blackwater, Civilian Contractors | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Government won’t seek death penalty in Afghan murder case

The Virginian-Pilot

The federal government has decided not to pursue the death penalty against two former security workers charged with slaying two Afghan civilians while working in Kabul last year.

Lawyers for Christopher Drotleff and Justin Cannon expressed relief at the news Monday.

“I’m delighted,” said Virginia Beach defense attorney Lawrence H. Woodward Jr., who represents Drotleff.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Cannon’s lawyer, James Broccoletti. “The next step would be for them to drop the case.”

Drotleff, of Virginia Beach, and Cannon, of Corpus Christi, Texas, still could face life in prison if convicted of murder and related charges. The trial is scheduled for Sept. 14, and U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar reminded the lawyers that he does not anticipate the trial being continued.

Drotleff and Cannon were employed by a subsidiary of the Moyock, N.C.-based security firm Xe, once called Blackwater, last May when they became involved in a traffic accident that ended in gunfire with two Afghan civilians dead and a third wounded. The government alleges the two workers had left their post, were armed without authorization and had been drinking that day. Drotleff and Cannon say they fired in self-defense.

At a brief court hearing Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Stoker told Doumar the government would not seek a death sentence in the case, but provided the court with no reason or explanation as to how that decision was made.

Generally, the Justice Department’s Capital Case Committee reviews each case that is eligible for the death penalty. The ultimate decision is approved by the attorney general.

Drotleff and Cannon appeared relieved after the hearing, smiling and shaking hands with their attorneys. Drotleff’s wife and his mother, who sat through the proceeding, declined to comment afterward.

The next step in the case is a motions hearing scheduled for June 16.

Woodward told the court that prosecutors have turned over more than 5,000 pages of discovery in the case.

Tim McGlone, (757) 446-2343, tim.mcglone@pilotonline.com

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Blackwater, Civilian Contractors, Private Security Contractor, State Department | , , , , , | Leave a comment