Blackwater guards found guilty in 2007 Iraq killings

Four former employees of the Blackwater security firm were found guilty Wednesday in connection with the 2007 shootings of more than 30 Iraqis in Baghdad that left 14 dead.

AFP| Last Updated: Oct 22, 2014, 23:22 PM IST

Washington: Four former employees of the Blackwater security firm were found guilty Wednesday in connection with the 2007 shootings of more than 30 Iraqis in Baghdad that left 14 dead.

A jury in a federal court in Washington found Nicholas Slatten guilty of first-degree murder. Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

The verdicts came after a trial that lasted more than two months, and weeks of deliberations. A mistrial was declared in relation to certain counts against Heard.

The Blackwater employees were guarding a US diplomatic convoy on September 16, 2007 in Baghdad`s Nisour Square when they opened fire.

A total of 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed, according to an Iraqi investigation, while a US count put the death toll at 14. The hail of gunfire also wounded 18 people.

The killing exacerbated Iraqi resentment toward Americans, and was seen by critics as an example of the impunity enjoyed by private security firms on the US payroll in Iraq.

"People who could laugh, who could love, were turned into bloodied, bullet-riddled corpses, people who were not legitimate targets... who were no real threat to them," federal prosecutor Anthony Asuncion said during the trial.

Blackwater, whose license to work in Iraq was revoked by Baghdad, was renamed Xe Services in 2009 and then Academi in 2011.

Upon President Barack Obama`s arrival in office in 2009, the State Department cancelled its contract with the firm.

The trial came after years of legal twists and turns in US courts.

In 2009, a US judge dismissed charges against five former Blackwater employees because certain statements they made immediately after the event could not be used against them.

Two years later, an appeals court reinstated the indictments against four defendants, opening the way for the trial in Washington.

A judge dismissed the case against Slatten in April because of a technicality. Federal prosecutors then re-filed the first-degree murder charge against him several weeks later.

A sentencing date was not yet announced.

Slatten faces a possible life sentence on the first-degree murder charge, but prosecutors would have to convince a jury that he acted with premeditation.

Before the killings, Slatten allegedly told acquaintances he wanted to "kill as many Iraqis as he could as `payback for 9/11,`" according to court documents.

The New York Times reported during the trial that a Blackwater manager had threatened to kill a State Department investigator -- who was looking into the company`s performance -- just weeks before the Nisour Square shootings.

The threat "sent a clear message that the Blackwater contractors saw themselves as `above the law` and actually believed that `they ran the place`," the investigator, Jean Richter, said in a memo cited by the Times.

US embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater and the State Department team was ordered to leave, The Times said.