Blackwater security guards found guilty in Iraq shooting incident
Four guards working for the Blackwater Worldwide security group were found guilty in federal court of manslaughter and gun charges stemming from a 2007 incident in Baghdad where they opened fire at a traffic circle killing 14 and wounding 17 - all innocent civilians.
The jury rejected the guard's claim that they were under fire at the time of the shooting.
The guilty verdicts on murder, manslaughter and gun charges marked a sweeping victory for prosecutors, who argued in an 11-week trial that the defendants fired recklessly and out of control in a botched security operation after one of them falsely claimed to believe the driver of an approaching vehicle was a car bomber. Jurors rejected the guards’ claims that they were acting in self-defense and were the target of incoming AK-47 gunfire.
Overall, defendants were charged with the deaths of 14 Iraqis and the wounding of 17 others at Baghdad’s Nisour Square shortly after noon Sept. 16, 2007. None of the victims was an insurgent.
“This verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war,” said Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. attorney for the District, whose office prosecuted the case. “I pray that this verdict will bring some sense of comfort to the survivors of that massacre.”
Defense attorneys appeared stunned and said they would appeal. David Schertler, an attorney for defendant Dustin Heard, called the result “incomprehensible.”
“The verdict is wrong,” Schertler said. “We’re devastated. We’re going to fight this every step of the way.”
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated 28 days before convicting Nicholas A. Slatten, 30, of Sparta, Tenn., of murder. Also convicted were Paul A. Slough, 35, of Keller, Tex., of 13 counts of manslaughter and 17 counts of attempted manslaughter; Evan S. Liberty, 32, of Rochester, N.H., of eight counts of manslaughter and 12 counts of attempted manslaughter; and Heard, 33, of Knoxville, Tenn., of six counts of manslaughter and 11 counts of attempted manslaughter.
Jurors also convicted Slough, Liberty and Heard of using military firearms while committing a felony. Prosecutors dropped three counts against Heard after jurors deadlocked on them.
Slatten faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison for murder. The others — who, like Slatten, are military veterans — face a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ordered the men held pending sentencing. Jurors declined to comment.
It's no secret that the anti-war crowd has been after Blackwater and other private security firms that help out the US military and State Department around the world. And it's an interesting question as to whether there would have been any charges if the incident had involved US uniformed military personnel. The notion that we can trust Iraqi eyewitnesses when they say that the guards were not under fire is absurd. We're supposed to believe people with a demonstrated animus against Americans and America?
The shooting occurred in a war zone where hesitation might have cost these men their lives. The judgment is far too harsh and perhaps will be reduced on appeal.