A federal judge on Monday sentenced one former Backwater guard to life in prison and three others to nearly 30 years behind bars for their role in killing 14 unarmed civilians, including women and children, and injuring 18 others in Iraq.
The shooting took place on Sept. 16, 2007, at Nisur Square in Baghdad.
Nicholas Abram Slatten of Sparta, TN, who was accused of firing first, was the only defendant convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to a term of life behind bars.
Paul Alvin Slough of Keller, TX, Evan Shawn Liberty of Rochester, NH, and Dustin Laurent Heard of Maryville, TN, were identified as the other three defendants. They were sentenced to 30 years plus one day after being found guilty of numerous counts of voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter, in addition to a firearms offense.
All four defendants were convicted by a jury on Oct. 22, 2014, following a trial that began June 17, 2014, and carried on for more than two months.
U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District of Columbia, a Ronald Reagan appointee and former Army captain, sentenced all four defendants on April 13.
Back in 2007, the defendants were employed by Blackwater USA, a private security contractor that was paid by the U.S. government to protect American officials.
Judge Lamberth reportedly said the defendants, all U.S. military veterans, “appear overall to be good young men who have never been in trouble,” but added that the U.S. government “should be commended for finding and exposing the truth of what happened in Nisur Square.”
The sentencing was officially announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and Andrew G. McCabe, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington, D.C. office.
“In killing and maiming unarmed civilians, these defendants acted unreasonably and without justification,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office in a statement. “In combination, the sheer amount of unnecessary human loss and suffering attributable to the defendants’ criminal conduct on Sept.16, 2007, is staggering.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office noted that the “prosecution reflected the commitment of the American justice system to the rule of law and expressed hope that the sentencing of the four defendants will bring some comfort to survivors of the shootings and the family members of those who died or were injured,” according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) press release.
“These sentencings are the result of the enduring resolve by law enforcement to protect victims of violent crime,” added McCabe from the FBI. “Because this crime scene was so large and required international travel, both by witnesses and by investigators, this case required a tremendous amount of resources, time and investigative expertise. 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.”
During sentencing, the former Blackwater employees vowed to appeal what one of them described as a “perversion of justice,” saying they acted in self-defense in a city that was then in the middle of a war zone and considered one of the world’s most dangerous places, reports The Washington Post.
Citing government evidence, the DOJ press release described the incident.
“At approximately noon on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007, several Blackwater security contractors, including the four defendants, opened fire in and around Nisur Square, a busy traffic circle in the heart of Baghdad. When they stopped shooting, 14 Iraqi civilians were dead,” said the press release. “Those killed included 10 men, two women and two boys, ages 9 and 11. Another 18 victims were injured.”
The government presented testimony from 71 witnesses, including 30 Iraqi nationals who represented the largest group of foreign witnesses ever to travel to the U.S. for a criminal trial.
Among the witnesses were 13 people who were wounded in the incident and relatives of many of those who were killed. The government witnesses also included nine former Blackwater employees who were on the scene on the day of the shooting.
“Prosecutors said the four defendants, among 19 Blackwater guards providing security for State Department officials in Iraq, fired machine guns and grenade launchers in a reckless and out-of-control way after one of them falsely claimed that their convoy, called Raven 23, was threatened by a car bomber,” reports The Post.
“The guards said that they acted in self-defense after coming under AK-47 gunfire as they cleared a path back to the nearby Green Zone for another Blackwater team that was evacuating a U.S. official from a nearby car bombing,” it continues.
Blackwater was renamed Xe Services when the security firm’s founder left the company. It was then sold and renamed Academi.
Follow Edwin Mora on Twitter: @EdwinMora83.