The Marine Corps has banned at least 16 men -- including a Shelbyville resident -- from U.S. bases in western Iraq because they were allegedly part of a security convoy accused of speeding through Fallujah and indiscriminately firing unauthorized weapons.
Rick Blanchard, whose friends and acquaintances here say he's been a Bedford County man for at least eight years, commented Friday on the 16 letters issued last Sunday by Marine Corps Maj. Gen. S.T. Johnson after Blanchard learned of several investigations being conducted.
"How can we be found guilty when it's an on-going investigation?" Blanchard asked.
Johnson's 16 letters to as many employees of Zapata Engineering of Charlotte, N.C., concludes with notice of their due process rights.
"You may appeal this decision in writing within 10 days of receipt of this letter," Johnson wrote.
Johnson's decision precludes Blanchard and others in the Zapata convoy from entering "all U.S. installations in the Multi-National Force-West Iraq area of operation," the major general wrote.
Blanchard and others in the convoy were taken into custody on May 28, held for 72 hours and released.
Zapata Engineering has a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to manage an ammunition storage depot in Iraq and to collect and transport captured ammunition to the depot for destruction.
Blanchard was one of 14 security specialists providing the necessary protection to allow technical professionals to perform their duties, Zapata Engineering President Manuel Zapata said in a prepared statement on Thursday.
Zapata described the convoy team as including 19 people: 14 were security specialists (of which eight are former Marines like Blanchard), two were technical staffers; and three were local maintenance workers.
Johnson wrote to 16 of the 19, saying, "Your convoy was speeding through the city and firing shots indiscriminately, some of which impacted positions manned by U.S. Marines serving in Al Fallujah.
"In addition, you were in possession of numerous unauthorized weapons," Johnson said. "Your actions endangered the lives of innocent Iraqis and U.S. service members in the area ..."
The convoy was therefore allegedly in violation of rules on the use of force by contracted security in Iraq as issued by the Multinational Forces' commander in Iraq.
Violation of the order may result in prosecution, which could lead to a fine or imprisonment in accordance with federal law, Johnson said.
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