When CIA operatives, US military personnel and hired gun mercenaries commit cold-blooded murder, it’s OK.
That’s the message from the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit – reversing the convictions of four Blackwater killers.
Nicholas Slatten alone was convicted of first-degree murder, the others (Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard) found guilty on multiple voluntary manslaughter counts, attempted manslaughter and various weapons offenses.
Slatten was sentenced to life imprisonment. The others got 30-year terms. Re-sentencing was ordered.
All defendants were involved in the cold-blooded killing or injuring of 31 Iraqi civilians – the incident occurring on September 16, 2007 in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.
Without provocation, they opened fire on cars carrying families. They had little reason to think they’d be held accountable.
Washington grants so-called private military contractors (PMCs) blanket immunity. Paul Bremer’s Order 17 authorized it. Rare exceptions prove the rule.
Blackwater personnel shot recklessly at defenseless civilians, using automatic weapons and a grenade launcher, including from two hovering helicopters.
Pandemonium erupted. Everyone tried to flee. Vehicles tried making U-turns to escape. Dead and wounded were everywhere, the crime scene blood-drenched.
A daughter witnessing her mother lethally shot in the head said:
“They are killers. I swear to God, not one bullet was shot at them. Why did they shoot us?”
In October 2014, a federal district court in Washington convicted the four Blackwater operatives.
They wounded over a dozen other Iraqis besides 17 massacred in cold blood. At trial, defense lawyers outrageously claimed they fired in self-defense. Eye witnesses refuted them.
They murdered defenseless Iraqis in cold blood – thinking blanket immunity protected them. Nearly always it does.
An FBI agent earlier called the incident the “Lai massacre of Iraq.” In sentencing, Judge Royce Lamberth said “(t)he overall wild thing that went on here just cannot be condoned by the court…You can’t just shoot first and seek justification later.”
He rejected a defense motion for a lesser sentence, along with a prosecutorial motion to increase it. Defense lawyers argued for mercy.
Prosecutors said the men never showed remorse of accepted responsibility for their crime. They called the incident an unprovoked ambush and massacre of civilians.
Former federal prosecutor T. Patrick Martin called what happened “nothing short of an atrocity.”
The Defendants were charged under the Military Extraterritorial Act. It covers overseas crimes of Defense Department civilian employees, military contractors and others involved in US war theaters.
Defense lawyers twisted reality, claiming the four mercenaries were in Iraq to provide diplomatic, not military, services.
Prosecutors argued that crimes committed “were so horrendous – the massacre and maiming of innocents so heinous – that they outweigh any factors that the defendants may argue for leniency.”
It’s unclear if the Justice Department will seek retrials or end a year’s long process. US Attorney for the District of Columbia Channing Phillips he’s “reviewing the appeals court ruling and has no further comment at this time.”