Ex-Blackwater worker gets prison for Afghan killing

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 27, 2011 6:13 PM
Ex-Blackwater worker gets prison for Afghan killing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former security contractor for Blackwater Worldwide was sentenced on Monday to 30 months in prison after being convicted of manslaughter for the death of an Afghan man in 2009 in Kabul.

Justin Cannon, 29, was sentenced by a Norfolk, Virginia, federal judge, who also included two years of probation.

He and a second contractor, Christopher Drotleff, were accused of shooting two Afghans in a car at an intersection and a man walking his dog. The passenger in the car and the passerby were both killed, and the other man was injured.

They were acquitted of more serious second-degree murder, assault and firearms charges. They were convicted only of involuntary manslaughter for the passenger in the vehicle.

"While Mr. Cannon was in Afghanistan to support to U.S. troops, his incredibly reckless behavior instead undermined our military mission and weakened the bond of trust with the Afghans," Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement.

Drotleff was sentenced earlier this month to 37 months in prison. They had been assigned to provide weapons training to the Afghan National Army.

The Afghan government has fiercely condemned the conduct of some private contractors there and the U.S. government has been under pressure to control them better to reduce civilian casualties.

Attorneys for Cannon and Drotleff had argued that the two were defending themselves as they drove Afghan translators to their homes when they were hit by a speeding car in 2009. They opened fire as the car tried to make another pass.

Federal prosecutors said the two men had been drinking alcohol and opened fire on the car as it tried to drive away.

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, wrote to the court and said the shooting incident was a "setback" for ties between the two countries and that it "put the success of our mission in jeopardy, and put the lives of our service members and civilian personnel serving in Afghanistan at risk."

Blackwater is now known as Xe Services.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and James Vicini, editing by Philip Barbara)