Four former Blackwater Worldwide security guards were found guilty on homicide, manslaughter and weapons charges October 22, for their part in the Baghdad massacre that killed 17 innocent Iraqis and wounded 24 others. A fifth contractor, Jeremy Ridgeway plead guilty to manslaughter and worked with prosecutors as a witness.
Ronald C. Machen Jr., the United States attorney in Washington who helped prosecute the case said:
This verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war. Seven years ago, these Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers on innocent men, women and children. Today, they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families.
On that fateful day in Nisour Square
September 16, 2007 started like any day in Iraq— for a country that had been at war for four years and were filled to the brim with nearly 150,000 new mercenaries contracted by private security details—but it would end cruelly.
Ahmed Haithem Ahmed was traveling with his mother, Mohassain, when they arrived at an intersection that was under control of Blackwater guards. The security detail were in the process of shutting down the intersection for a second convoy approaching with diplomats that had been in a meeting when a car bomb exploded nearby.
Ahmed was the third car away from the intersection, when a Blackwater guard— reportedly Nicholas A. Slatten, a sniper— fired the first shots, completely unprovoked in witness accounts. Ahmed was struck in the forehead and died instantly. His weight slumped forward and the vehicle continued to coast forward, his mother hugged her dead son as Blackwater guards rained bullets on their vehicle, killing Mohassain.
An Iraqi officer, Sarhan Deab Abdul Moniem, ran to help the mother and son, and told a court in Washington:
There was a lady. She was screaming and weeping about her son and asking for help. I asked her to open up the door so I could help her. But she was paying attention only to her son.
That’s when witnesses say the hired guards launched a multi-directional assault on Iraqis who were waiting in traffic. The day ended with 17 dead Iraqis, the youngest being nine-year-old, Ali Kinani who was shot in the head while sitting in the backseat of his father’s SUV. Two dozen others were wounded trying to escape merciless slaughter.
In 2008, Paul Slough, Nicholas Slatten, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Jeremy Ridgeway were indicted on charges of homicide, manslaughter and machine-gun weapons charges (when an automatic weapon is used in a crime, it carries a higher penalty) after an investigation had been conducted by US government agencies and the Iraqi government. The US released reports that held Blackwater responsible. The trial languished in and out of courts and the Iraqi government became very critical of US courts, fearing justice would never be served.
Anti-American attitudes came to a boiling point over this incident.
A troubled past for Blackwater
Before the Nisour Square incident, in August of 2007 the private security company had come under fire by the State Department. Jean C. Richter went to Iraq to conduct a review of Blackwater and other “High-Threat Potential contracts” when Richter became aware of a “morale and health issue” surrounding a dining facility. Richter says he then came into contact with Daniel Carroll, project manager for Blackwater Worldwide, to see if anything was being done to remedy the poor conditions that were found. When Carroll indicated to Richter that nothing had been done. Richter then reminded Carroll that Blackwater was under the wing of the US government and had to comply with regulations. Carroll responded by saying that his company was NOT part of any government program and therefore was not under the State Department’s authority.
In a memo to the State Department, Richter states:
Mr. Carroll accentuated this point by saying he could ‘kill me’ at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq at the time. A second individual present, Donald Thomas, compared the lawless working environment of Iraq to the ‘OK Corral.’
To me, it was immediately apparent that the Blackwater Contractors believed that they were the de facto authority and acted accordingly, in an alarming manner.
Richter also goes on to say that Blackwater saw themselves as “above the law” and that they “ran the place.”
Less than a week before the murders in Nisour Square, Blackwater was named in another lawsuit that alleges:
Albazzaz et al., v. Prince, et. al. is a civil lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the families of three men killed in Iraq: Ali Hussamaldeen Albazzaz, Kadhum Kayiz Aziz, and Sa’ad Raheem Jarallah. The men were killed when Blackwater “shooters” opened fire on a crowd of Iraqi civilians in Al Watahba Square in Baghdad on September 9, 2007.
The lawsuit alleges Blackwater agents fired upon a crowd without provocation or justification, but the charges were later dismissed after a settlement was reached in January of 2010.
Between 2007 and 2008, there were nearly 150,000 contractors working in Iraq:
Justice for Iraqi Families
On October 22, 2014 federal court issued guilty verdicts for all four former Blackwater security guards on a combined 32 charges. Slatten received a guilty verdict for a murder charge, and is facing up to life in prison.
The Associated Press reported:
According to the prosecution’s court papers, Slatten said he wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as ‘payback for 9/11,’ and he repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he had shot, including an old Iraqi woman who had a knife in her hand. That incident occurred while Slatten was in the Army, the filing stated.
The other three: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard were found guilty of manslaughter /attempted manslaughter charges and guilty of using a machine gun to commit crimes. The use of a machine gun in a criminal act carries a minimum of 30 years in federal prison. Jeremy Ridgeway plead guilty to killing Mohassain months prior.
Another contractor, Matthew Murphy, who was part of the convoy testified to a grand jury:
[He had witnessed ] unarmed civilians shot and killed who were clearly no threat to anyone by his fellow Raven 23 members.
For many in Iraq who were doubtful the US would prosecute their own, this verdict may bring some relief and ease some tension between the nations (yeah right), but for many in the seven years since the massacre it’s just not enough, considering Blackwater continued to remain a humanitarian’s nightmare until their contract was “voided” in 2009 (voided, but they only had to rebrand as XE Services to stay in).
When Bill O’Reilly spoke on the issue of ISIS last September he said:
We need ground forces. However, the American people, perhaps rightly so, don’t want to send any more of our troops into these chaotic countries. What about a mercenary army, elite fighters well paid, well-trained to defeat terrorists all over the world?
Anyone familiar with Nisour Square collectively screamed, “NOOOOOOOOO!”