Blackwater Grand Jury Resumes
Associated Press (2007-11-29) Matt Apuzzo
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--Blackwater Grand Jury Resumes--
By MATT APUZZO – 3 hours ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — Two unidentified witnesses appeared Thursday before a federal grand jury investigating Blackwater Worldwide, a government contractor whose security guards were involved in a shooting that killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.
National security prosecutors Kenneth Kohl and Stephen Ponticiello, who are handling the Blackwater case, spent a full day in the grand jury room for the panel's second day of work. When Kohl arrived Thursday morning, he brought with him two wrapping-paper-sized rolls of documents.
The grand jury began work earlier this week and heard from two witnesses. The second of those witnesses, whose head was shaved and who wore a black leather jacket, returned to continue testifying Thursday. He was accompanied by a lawyer who declined to identify himself or his client.
A third witness entered the grand jury room Thursday afternoon escorted by a law enforcement official. Wearing khaki cargo pants, a brown leather jacket and a military-style crew cut, the witness left the courthouse alongside prosecutors and did no comment. His law enforcement escort, who carried an aerial photograph blown up into a map, also would not comment.
Federal prosecutors use grand juries to decide whether to charge someone with a crime. Made up of 16 to 23 people, grand juries meet in secret to hear evidence. If a majority of jurors believes a crime was committed, they can hand up an indictment, which amounts to a formal charge.
The Justice Department says it likely will be months before it decides whether it can prosecute the guards, and it is trying now to pinpoint how many shooters in the Blackwater convoy could face charges. The contractors, hired to protect State Department officials in Iraq, operated in a legal gray area and it's unclear what liability they could face.
Further complicating the issue, the State Department promised limited immunity to the Blackwater guards.
The grand jury is not exclusively hearing evidence related to Blackwater. Federal prosecutors working on different cases split the available time before grand juries, which meet for about 18 months and may hand up several unrelated indictments during that time.