The Justice Department unsealed indictments today in its case against five employees of North Carolina-based Blackwater Worldwide for their role in a 2007 Baghdad shooting that killed 17 Iraqi civilians. The men -- all decorated U.S. military veterans -- have been charged with manslaughter and misuse of firearms for actions they took while guarding a State Department convoy.

A sixth guard -- Jeremy Ridgeway of California -- pleaded guilty last week to two counts of manslaughter for his role in the incident in Nisour Square, the New York Times reports:
Court documents said Mr. Ridgeway told investigators that he and the other guards improperly used deadly force against drivers and pedestrians who "posed no threat to the convoy."

Officials refused to say whether Mr. Ridgeway's guilty plea indicated that he would testify against the other five.
The five accused guards -- three of them from the South -- surrendered today at a federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. They are Nick Slatten, a former Army sergeant from Sparta, Tenn.; Paul Slough, an Army veteran from Keller, Texas; and three former Marines: Dustin Heard from Knoxville, Tenn.; Donald Ball from West Valley City, Utah; and Evan Liberty from Rochester, N.H.

While the case has been assigned to U.S. District Court in Washington, defense attorneys want to get it moved to Utah, a relatively conservative place where they hope to find a more sympathetic jury, the Associated Press reports.

The indictment charges the Blackwater guards with 14 counts of manslaughter for the killings of Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia'y, Mahassin Mohssen Kadhum Al-Khazali, Osama Fadhil Abbas, Ali Mohammed Hafedh Abdul Razzaq, Mohamed Abbas Mahmoud, Qasim Mohamed Abbas Mahmoud, Sa'adi Ali Abbas Alkarkh, Mushtaq Karim Abd Al-Razzaq, Ghaniyah Hassan Ali, Ibrahim Abid Ayash, Hamound Sa'eed Abttan, Uday Ismail Ibrahiem, Mahdi Sahib Nasir and Ali Khalil Abdul Hussein.

It also charges them with 20 counts of attempted manslaughter for wounding Majed Salman Abdel Kareen Al-Gharbawi, Jennan Hafidh Abid al-Razzaq, Yasmin Abdul Kidr Salhe, Mohanad Wadhnah, Haydar Ahmad Rabie Hussain Al-Khafaji, Hassan Jaber Salman, Farid Walid Hasoun Al-Kasab, Abdul Amir Raheem Jihan Yasser, Wisam Raheen Fliah Hasan Al-Miri, Talib Mutluk Diwan, Adel Jaber Sham'ma Al-Jadiri, Nasir Hamzah Latif Al-Rikabi, Mahdi Abid Khider Abbas Al-Faraji, Abdul Wahab Abdul Qadar Al-Qalamchi, Bara Sadoon Ismail Al-Ani, Sami Hawa Hamud Al-Sabahin, Fawziyyah Aliwi Hassoon, Ali Hadi Naji Al-Rubaie, Alah Majeed Sghair Zaidi and Jassim Mohammad Hashim.

In addition, the men each face one count of using and discharging a firearm and destructive devices during and in relation to a crime of violence. The firearms included an SR-25 sniper rifle, M-4 assault rifles and M-240 machine guns. The destructive devices were M-203 grenade launchers and grenades.

If convicted, the defendants could face up to 10 years in prison on each manslaughter count, seven years on each attempted manslaughter count, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years on the firearms charge.

Speaking today at a press conference, Jeffrey Taylor, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said:
None of the victims of this shooting was armed. None of them was an insurgent. Many were shot while inside civilian vehicles that were attempting to flee from the convoy. One victim was shot in the chest while standing in the street with his hands up. Another was injured from a grenade fired into a nearby girls' school.
The Blackwater convoy had disobeyed an order to stay in the protected Green Zone following a car bombing, instead setting out to attempt to blockade the busy square, according to the Associated Press. The convoy entered a traffic circle against the flow when it was approached by the Kia. Ridgeway says that rather than trying to get the driver to stop, the guards simply opened fire on the car -- and then kept shooting.

The guards have insisted they acted in self-defense after coming under fire. In a statement [pdf] released today, Blackwater acknowledged it doesn't have all of the information gathered by federal investigators. However, based on what it does have, it believes the men "acted within the rules set for for them by the government and that no criminal violations occurred." But if it is determined that anyone acted improperly, the company said, it supports holding the person accountable.

The incident in Nisour Square sparked outrage in Iraq and led to the temporary suspension of Blackwater's right to work in the country. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called on the U.S. government to end its contract with the company, while the U.S. House passed a bill -- sponsored by Congressman David Price of North Carolina -- to make private contractors working in Iraq and other combat zones subject to prosecution by U.S. courts.

The largest security contractor in Iraq, Blackwater has done more than $1 billion in federal business since 2000. The indictment does not charge or implicate the company.