This week brought the latest development in the prosecution of five Blackwater private security guards for the shooting deaths of 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007. The development: the formal unsealing of the Justice Department’s indictment of the guards and the surrender of the accused to federal authorities.
What’s my particular interest in this case? The guards chose to surrender themselves in Salt Lake City, Utah. Why Utah, you ask? Great question. Let’s review the geography:
Venue ordinarily reserved for prosecution of crimes committed overseas: Washington, D.C.
Place where atrocities occurred: Baghdad, Iraq
Place where accused’s employer has its HQ: Moyock, North Carolina
Homes of the accused:
- Dustin Heard, Knoxville, TN
- Evan Liberty, Rochester, NH
- Nick Slatten, Sparta, TN
- Paul Slough, Keller, TX
- Donald Ball, West Valley, UT
Oh so there it is. Out of all of the places a trial like this could be held, they picked the home state of one defendant. I don’t want to go into all the niceties of “minimum contacts” and personal jurisdiction, but surrendering and asking for trial in Utah is certainly legal, at least in the loosest sense of the word.
But why surrender in Utah? News sources are reporting that it is in order to be in a “more conservative, pro-gun” jurisdiction. Puh-leeze. Utah fits that description, clearly, but aren’t Tennessee, Texas, and North Carolina also full of hicks clinging to their guns? (Disclosure: I lived in NC for 26 years–and my entire family still resides there– until I moved to Texas, so I do not think I am speaking from ignorance.) And any of them would be closer than the place where the trial actually ought to be held- Washington, DC.
So it can’t just be conservatism and “pro-gunness,” right? What else might there be? From the AP, we learn that the guards wanted a jury pool “more likely to support the Iraq war.” In 2006, Utah was one of only three states (including its neighbors in Idaho and Wyoming- does anybody actually live in Wyoming?) where not-my-President Bush had a 50%+ approval rating. In 2007, it became the only state with that lofty distinction. However, at the same time support for the Iraq War (and Pres. Bush’s handling of it) was only at 41%, right around the time that President Hinckley made some negative remarks about the consequences of the war. Granted, at the exact same time, support for the war among the broader American populace was at 23%. Behind. The. Curve. Its part of that “dangerous culture of obedience” that former SLC Mayor Rocky Anderson identified that same year. When Utahns are becoming sought for their propensity to side favorably with mercenaries and war criminals, we are in dangerous territory. (And yes, I know that not everybody in Utah is Mormon. But the 41% that still supported the Iraq War in 2007 definitely are, and those are the people that the defense attorneys are hoping will make it on the jury. The rest of them just finished voting for Obama.)
Utah- now known for the greatest snow on earth, Sundance, Mormons, natural beauty, and a lack of accountability for “war crimes.”