The trial of four Blackwater private security contractors, stemming from the infamous Nisour Square shootings in Iraq in 2007, has finally been resolved, after years of dropped charges, appeals and postponements. One of the men, Nicholas A. Slatten, was convicted of murder, while the other three men – Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty and Paul Slough – were convicted on weapons and manslaughter charges. They were each originally charged with murder, but the statute of limitations for the murder charges for the latter three expired before prosecutors could bring the case to trial.
The conviction is the resolution of a long saga that began when Blackwater security officials, hired by the United States Government to work in the region, responded to a car bombing in Nisour Square, Baghdad, on September 16, 2007. Blackwater officials claim they received AK-47 shots from within a crowd of people, and returned fire, killing 17 civilians and injuring 20 others in the process.
Testimony backed up both sides, with defense lawyers pointing to witness testimony from government officials claiming the Blackwater contractors had been fired on, and punctures were found in one of the Blackwater vehicles. However, the prosecution’s witnesses included an Iraqi police officer who saw a mother cradle her dead son before being shot herself, and a father whose 9-year-old son died in the shooting.
Many doubted that the case would ever come to trial, as the U.S. kept the men from being prosecuted in Baghdad and the case went through a series of appeals before finally being brought seven years after the shootings. For many it represented, along with other alleged human rights violations, the end of trust between Iraqi citizens and the U.S. government, as well as the inevitable result of what is to some the overreliance of the U.S. on private security firms.
Blackwater Worldwide, after suffering heavy publicity blows as the main contractor of the war in Iraq, changed their name in 2009 to Xe Services and again in 2011 to Academi, after being purchased by a group of investors. They are under new leadership, including a new board and new senior management, and are still employed by the United States, to the tune of over 340 million dollars during President Obama’s tenure as Commander in Chief.