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Security contractors charged in Afghanistan killings to be arraigned

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Christopher Drotleff, Justin Cannon are charged with murder and attempted murder
  • The charges relate to two shooting deaths in Kabul, Afghanistan, in May 2009
  • Drotleff and Cannon were contractors for the company formerly known as Blackwater
  • The men say they fired in self-defense

(CNN) -- Two security contractors charged with fatally shooting two Afghan men after a traffic incident will be arraigned in a Virginia courtroom Tuesday morning.

Christopher Drotleff and Justin Cannon worked as security contractors for a subsidiary of Xe, the military contracting firm formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide.

They are each charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in connection with a May 2009 shooting in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The 12-count, 19-page indictment returned by a federal grand jury in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia also includes weapons charges against the two men.

Both men were in Afghanistan working for the security company Paravant -- a subsidiary of Xe -- to help the U.S. Army train Afghan troops.

Drotleff, Cannon and two other contractors, Steven McClain and Armando Hamid, were driving their interpreters on a busy Kabul street called Jalalabad Road on May 5, 2009, when they said a car slammed into one of their two cars.

"I immediately thought we were under attack," McClain said in May 2009.

The men said they got out to help their colleagues, and the vehicle that had struck the car did a U-turn and headed back at them.

The contractors said they fired at the oncoming vehicle in self-defense.

"The car was coming at us," Cannon said in May. "At that point we attempted to stop and immobilize the vehicle and we engaged it in small arms fire. And the car didn't stop. It just kept going."

The incident spotlights the issue of the role and conduct of U.S. security contractors in Afghanistan.

A similar issue arose in Iraq after a September 2007 confrontation involving then-Blackwater contractors that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.

Blackwater lost its contract there after Iraq's government refused to renew its operating license. The company then changed its name to Xe, and it continues to receive multimillion-dollar contracts in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to issue an order demanding that all private security companies in Afghanistan cease operation within four months, according to his spokesman.

All four men lost their jobs after Xe officials said they violated company policies.

"We feel that Blackwater wanted to shift the blame from Blackwater itself to these men as if they were acting on a lark... I think the intent is to use these men as scapegoats," attorney Daniel J. Callahan said in May.