by RAY FLEMING

THE American private security firm Blackwater (now renamed Xe Ltd) has decided to pay compensation to the families of the 17 Iraqis who were allegedly killed by its guards in a shooting spree in Baghdad in 2007. The five guards were cleared of all charges against them on a legal technicality by a Federal court last week, a decision that led to protests from the Iraq government, the families concerned and many observers in America. The judge who dismissed the case said in a 90-page ruling that the guards had made confessions to a US investigator on the understanding that they would not be used in any case against them but the prosecutor had wrongly ignored that undertaking. The judge was probably correct but from the viewpoint of the bereaved families it was a double-whammy -- they could not get justice in Iraq because the guards were covered by a no-liability agreement between America and Iraq and they could not get it in America either.

Xe's decision to pay compensation may prevent other prosecutions in the US and Iraq from proceeding; several other cases against Blackwater security staff were pending. Despite widespread criticism of Blackwater's methods the secretive company still has many US government contracts. A spokesman for Xe Ltd said: “We hope to move forward to help the people of Iraq and Afghanistan to find a peaceful, democratic future.”

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