Blackwater contractors sentenced for death of 14 Iraqis

One former Blackwater security contractor was sentenced to life in prison and three others were sentenced to 30 years each for their role in a violent 2007 episode that resulted in the deaths of 14 unarmed Iraqi citizens.

Monday’s verdict was the culmination of a long saga in the case against the contractors, whose shots into a crowded Baghdad street represented one of the lowest periods in the U.S. war in Iraq.

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Nicholas Slatten, who was accused of firing the first shots in the crowded Baghdad street, was found guilty of one count of first-degree murder last October and sentenced on Monday to life in prison.

Three other men with him during the Sept. 16, 2007 shooting — Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard — were given terms of 30 years each. They were all found guilty of multiple charges of voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter. 

“In killing and maiming unarmed civilians, these defendants acted unreasonably and without justification,” the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia said in a statement after the sentencing. 

“In combination, the sheer amount of unnecessary human loss and suffering attributable to the defendants’ criminal conduct on Sept.16, 2007, is staggering.”

On that day in Baghdad’s bustling Nisour Square, the four men and others in the “Raven 23” Blackwater team opened fire into the busy traffic circle, shooting more than two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians.

In the end, 14 civilians were killed, including two boys under the age of 12. Another 18 people were injured.

The shooting sparked intense criticism both in Iraq and in the U.S., and the Justice Department had been under pressure to prove that it could carry out justice even when the defendants were Americans standing alongside U.S. diplomats and soldiers.

“The results of this case demonstrate that the FBI will investigate violations of U.S. law no matter where they occur in order to bring justice to innocent victims,” said Andrew McCabe, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office.

Lawyers for the four men, meanwhile, had fought vigorously against the charges, maintaining that the men were merely acting out of self defense in the dark and harried days of a war in which the battlefield was everywhere. The men claimed that they were fighting an ambush and that the unnarmed dead were collateral damage of their effort to race back to safety.

A fifth Blackwater security guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter in 2008. He testified against his former colleagues during the trial and has yet to be sentenced.