Blackwater security guards given heavy prison sentences

Sentences stem from 2007 massacre in Iraq

David Usborne
Tuesday 14 April 2015 06:59
Dustin Heard's wife, Kelli, centre, stands outside the courtroom alongside other Blackwater supporters
Dustin Heard's wife, Kelli, centre, stands outside the courtroom alongside other Blackwater supporters

A federal judge in Washington DC has imposed heavy sentences on four former security guards hired by the former private mercenary firm Blackwater convicted last year of either murder or manslaughter for their parts in the Nisoor Square massacre in Baghdad eight years ago that left 14 people dead.

The sentences are the latest milestone in what has been a protracted and emotionally charged legal struggle arising from the 2007 shootings at the height of the war in Iraq that brought international condemnation on Blackwater and by extension on the United States for contracting it to provide security in Baghdad.

The four former Blackwater employees were convicted in October after a trial that included grim video footage of the carnage that broke out as the Blackwater team moved ostensibly to ensure safe passage for a US convoy as it approached the area. The government flew Iraqi citizens who either witnessed the incident or had loved ones amongst the victims to take the stand and testify to the court.

Left-right: Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten and Paul Slough

At the trial, prosecutors said that the men had opened fire without cause or provocation before the arrival of the convoy turning Nisoor Square into a virtual shooting gallery. As well as the 14 who were killed in the fusillade another 17 people were injured.

US District Judge Royce Lamberth sentence Nicholas Slatten, who was described as being the first to open fire and who in October was convicted of first degree murder to life imprisonment. The three other men, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, were sentenced to thirty years on charges of manslaughter and using firearms while committing a felony.

Earlier in the day, defence lawyers for the men presented character witnesses seeking to portray them as having acted in good faith in what at the time was a highly volatile and perilous situation in Baghdad. But prosecutors asserted that the shooting was an unprovoked ambush of innocent people and that in the years since they had failed to voice remorse for what happened.

“These four men have refused to accept virtually any responsibility for their crimes and the blood they shed that day,” Assistant US Attorney Patrick Martin said, urging long sentences of the men.

“Based on the seriousness of the crimes, I find the penalty is not excessive,” Judge Lamberth told the court as he delivered the sentences. The defence indicated it is preparing to appeal the convictions of their clients.

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