Former Blackwater guards sentenced for 2007 killing of Iraqi civilians

Dustin Heard's wife, Kelli, center, holds a photograph of him and his two children as she stands with other family members, friends, and supporters of four former Blackwater security guards during a press conference outside the Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, Monday, April 13, 2015, following sentencing for a 2007 shooting of civilians in Iraq. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth sentenced Nicholas Slatten to life in prison while Paul Slough of Keller, Texas, Evan Liberty of Rochester, N.H., and Dustin Heard of Knoxville, Tenn., were convicted of manslaughter and received sentences of 30 years plus one day. Also pictured is Stacey Heard, Dustin Heard's father, at left. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Three former employees of the US private military contractor once known as Blackwater were sentenced to 30 years in prison on Monday and a fourth received a life sentence, closing a sordid chapter of the Iraq conflict relating to the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad.

Judge Royce Lamberth denied a request by the defense for leniency in sentencing on Monday, and, as expected, his sentences followed the 30-year mandatory sentence guidelines for the crimes.

The four, who were part of a tactical support team called “Raven 23”, opened fire on a crowd of unarmed civilians from an armoured convoy with machine-guns and grenade launchers in September 2007.

In October 2014, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard were found guilty of 13 charges of voluntary manslaughter and 17 charges of attempted manslaughter, while Nicholas Slatten, the team’s sniper who was the first to open fire, was convicted on a separate charge of first-degree murder.

Slatten was sentenced to life; Slough, Liberty and Heard got 30 years each.

“In killing and maiming unarmed civilians, these defendants acted unreasonably and without justification,” the US attorney’s office said in a statement. “In combination, the sheer amount of unnecessary human loss and suffering attributable to the defendants’ criminal conduct on September 16, 2007, is staggering.”

The massacre left 14 civilians dead and at least 17 wounded. “None of the victims was an insurgent, or posed any threat to the Raven 23 convoy,” the government said, in a sentencing memorandum filed to the court on 8 April.

The memorandum contained quotations from relatives of those killed in the attack, including Mohammad Kinani, whose nine-year-old son Ali was killed. “That day changed my life forever. That day destroyed me completely,” Kinani said.

Also quoted in the memorandum was David Boslego, a retired US army colonel, who said that the massacre was “a grossly excessive use of force” and “grossly inappropriate for an entity whose only job was to provide personal protection to somebody in an armored vehicle.”

Boslego also said that the attack had “a negative effect on our mission, [an] adverse effect … It made our relationship with the Iraqis in general more strained.”

The government called on the judge to impose “substantial sentences”. By doing so, the memorandum said, “this court would hold the defendants accountable for their callous, wanton, and deadly conduct, and deter others wielding the awesome power over life or death from perpetrating similar atrocities in the future.

“This is far from the ordinary case,” the memorandum continued. “The crimes here were so horrendous – the massacre and maiming of innocents so heinous – that they outweigh any factors that the defendants may argue form a basis for leniency.” It said that the defendants had “shown no remorse for their actions”.

In a press release after the four were convicted in 2014, Blackwater – now known as Academi after being sold and renamed in 2011 – said they were “relieved that the justice system has completed its investigation into a tragedy that occurred at Nisour Square in 2007 and that any wrongdoing that was carried out has been addressed by our courts.

“The security industry has evolved drastically since those events, and under the direction of new ownership and leadership, Academi has invested heavily in compliance and ethics programs, training for our employees, and preventative measures to strictly comply with all US and local government laws,” the release continued.

The four were tried under title 18, section 3238 of the US code, a statute under which those who commit offenses outside the jurisdiction of any state or district, including “upon the high seas”, can be brought to justice in the home district of the offenders or the District of Columbia.

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