A Washington, DC jury found four Blackwater guards guilty on charges relating to the 2007 shootings of 30 Iraqi civilians.
The jury found Nicholas Slatten guilty of first-degree murder. Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard were found guilty of “at least 3 counts” of voluntary manslaughter.
This partial verdict comes after 27 days of deliberation by the jury of 8 women and four men.
The jury still has to deliberate on other counts, but District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth allowed the jury to announce the verdicts it had arrived at.
This story began on September 16,2007 when the contractors shot 30 people at Nisour Square, killing 17 of them. The guards were at the square to clear a path for a State Department convoy.
The Nisour Square shooting and the U.S. government’s subsequent refusal to allow Iraq to prosecute the men led to a diplomatic crises between the two countries.
Following an investigation by the FBI, Blackwater, now operating under the name Academi paid $7.5 million in fines without admitting guilt to settle various charges involving “pre-Academi” employees.
While Congress denounced the shootings as recently as July, legislation that would have clarified U.S. jurisdiction for American prosectors and investigators to address criminal wrong-doing overseas by private security contractors continues to languish after years of neglect.
The Washington post suggests that the Jury accepted part of the Defense claim that the four were acting in self-defense. However, some of them reacted excessively and unreasonably.
During trial, prosecutors said the ensuing gunfire was so extensive that “bloody, bullet-riddled corpses were left throughout the area.”
Prosecutors presented testimony from 70 witnesses, 30 of them were Iraqis. During trial, prosecutors suggested that Slatten and Liberty were hostile to the Iraq’s civilian population. With Slough, they occasionally fired weapons at Iraqi targets without provocation.
The Defense claimed the four acted reasonable because Baghdad was the scene of “horrific threats from car bombs, ambushes and follow-on attacks, sometimes aided by Iraqi security forces infiltrated by guerrillas.
They further claimed that the U.S. government overstepped legal boundaries by prosecution under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act. That’s the law that allows prosecutions for criminal acts committed abroad by government employees and contractors. The defense said their clients were in Iraq under a contract with the State Department, not the Pentagon. Prosecutors countered that the MEJA applies to those “engaged in actions related to supporting the U.S. military mission.
A first-degree murder conviction carries a maximum sentence of life imprison. The maximum term for involuntary manslaughter is eight years and seven years for attempted manslaughter.
If the accused are found guilty on gun charges, they will face mandatory minimum terms of 30 years.
Initially, the odds were against this trial taking place at all. It took seven years, but in the end, justice prevailed. The Blackwater four said they will appeal. Legal Times (subscription needed) reports Heard’s lawyer said the defense would fight the verdict “ever step of the way.”
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Ms. Woodbury has a graduate degree in political science, with a minor in law. She is a qualified expert on political theory with a specific interest in the nexus between political theories and models and human rights.
Based on her interest in human rights and the threats that authoritarian regimes are to them, Ms. Woodbury’s masters thesis examined the influence of politics on the enforcement of international criminal law was cited in several academic studies.
Published work includes case summaries for the War Crimes Research Office.
She has an extensive background doing legal research in international and domestic law.
Ms. Woodbury’s work for politicusUSA includes articles on voting rights, the right to asylum and other civil/human rights.