“It was a horror movie.”

Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard were all convicted in the shootings of more than 30 Iraqi citizens while serving as private security contractors with the U.S. State Department.

A federal jury who deliberated for nearly a month reached verdicts on all, but 3 counts against the 4 defendants.  Slough was convicted of 13 counts of voluntary manslaughter and 17 counts of attempted manslaughter.  Liberty was convicted of 8 counts of voluntary manslaughter and 12 counts of attempted manslaughter.  Heard was convicted of 6 counts of voluntary manslaughter and 11 counts of attempted manslaughter.  The prosecution dropped the other 3 counts against Heard.  All three were also convicted on gun charges.  They face up to 15 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter and up to 7 years in prison for attempted manslaughter.  In addition, they face 30 years for the gun charges.  Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges.  He faces life in prison.  A fifth Blackwater guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, pled guilty previously to lesser charges in exchange for his cooperation during the trial against his colleagues.

READ:  In Over 80% of Cases Blackwater Reports It Shot First (Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Memo)

The 3 were accused in connection with a September 16, 2007 incident in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, a traffic circle, where 14 unarmed civilians, including children were killed and 17 wounded.  The Blackwater Worldwide firm they worked for has since changed its name to Academi.  The incident was the single largest known massacre in Iraq at the hands of U.S. security contractors.  The massacre is also referred to as Baghdad’s Bloody Sunday.  The verdicts marked a victory for prosecutors in a trial marred with legal battles.  The trial lasted 10 weeks.  Jurors agreed with the prosecution that the defendants were out of control during a botched mission and that Slatten lied about believing that one of the drivers was a terrorist.  The defense had claimed the guards acted in self-defense and responded appropriately to incoming fire.  Civilians deaths were a sad reality of warfare.

A video filmed shortly after the Blackwater incident shows the vehicle of Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y and his mother, the first victims in the square that day.  Their vehicle was reportedly also blown up by some type of explosive thrown or fired by Blackwater.

The case suffered a major setback in 2009 when the entire case was thrown out because the prosecution relied too heavily on statements from guards who thought the statements would never be made public.  The Iraq people criticized the U.S. government and said that the American judicial system would never convict one of their own.  The massacre inflamed Anti-American sentiments around the world and were denounced as just another example of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars gone wrong.  The case was renewed in 2011 by an appeals court.  The case was also marred with accusations that the State Department was interfering in the prosecution and that evidence of insurgents had been hidden by the Iraqi police.  There were also questions over the founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince’s ties to the President George W. Bush administration and how that affected the investigations.

The shooting caused international uproar over the use of private military forces in war.  Many criticize the fact that only the low-level employees of Blackwater were held accountable for the atrocity.  They compare it to the systematic torture at the Abu Ghraib prison.  Prince has not been quiet in recent years.  He sold Blackwater to investors in 2010 and now heads a private equity firm with opportunities in Africa.  He has suggested that private military forces should be used to confront the Ebola crisis and the terrorist organization, ISIS.  Many compare Prince to the ex-CIA employee Jose Rodriguez Jr. who was part of the CIA’s controversial torture program and wrote a memoir, Hard Measures, which critics say glorifies torture and the violation of human rights.  Rodriguez was also part of the destruction of two “enhanced interrogation” tapes because according to Kyle Foggo, Executive Director of the CIA, “the heat from destroying is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into public domain…”  Prince has authored several books about private security forces.

Iraqi citizens and others see the conviction in the Blackwater case as an important, yet too rare moment of accountability in the private war industry.

Mohammed Kinani, the father of the 9-year-old boy, Ali, who was the youngest victim killed in the square that day, said, “[We] saw one armored vehicle and another with men brandishing machine guns…”  The armored cars swiftly blocked all traffic.  “Myself and all the cars before and behind me stopped.  We followed their orders.  I thought they were some sort of unit belonging to the American military…Any authority giving you an order to stop, you follow the order.”  The men were the Blackwater team who were charged with surveilling the area ahead of a diplomatic convoy, they were codenamed Raven 23.  Mohammed said that as everyone waited two more vehicles pulled up.  Mohammed said that he noticed the man in the car next to him staring at his car.  He said he thought that he was looking at his sister, so he yelled “What are you looking at?” and the man replied, “I think they shot the driver in the car in front of you.”  The man beside him panicked and tried turning his car around, but crashed into a taxi and an argument ensued.  The taxi driver exited the vehicle and Mohammed tried to break up the fight.  The driver who had been shot’s car, a Kia sedan, began drifting toward the Blackwater convoy.  An Iraqi police officer, Ali Khalaf Salman, tried to help a woman inside.  He raised his arm to tell the convoy not to shoot.  But the Blackwater guards opened fire, “It was as though they were in a fighting field.  I thought the police officer was killed,” Mohammed said.  The officer managed to dive out of the way.  But the woman was killed.

“What can I tell you?” Mohammed said, closing his eyes. “It was like the end of days.”

The first driver who was killed was Ahmed Haithem Al Rubia’y, a medical student, and the woman his mother, Mahassin, a doctor.

“There was absolutely no shooting at the Blackwater men,” said Mohammed.

Mohammed said that the men shot at everything and it appeared random.  Mohammed said he saw a young man run from his vehicle and the guards gunned him down and continued to shoot his dead body,

“The guy is dead in a pool of blood. Why would you continue shooting him?”

All I could hear from my car was the gun shots and the sound of glass shattering,” he remembered,“We imagined that in a few seconds everyone was going to die.”  He said after the shooting was over, he took his son to the emergency room, “I entered the emergency room, and blood was everywhere, dead people, injured people everywhere.”  But, his son was already brain dead.  He said that the doctors told him to take his son to a neurological hospital, but he had to go through Nisour Square.  When he arrived, the U.S. Army would not let him through.  The ambulance took an alternate route, but his son died.

Hassan Jabir, who was struck by gunfire during the shooting, said after the verdict, “At last we are hearing good news where justice has been achieved and Blackwater will receive their punishment.”


  • Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y, 21 (medical student)
  • Mahassin Mohssen Kadhum Al-Khazali, 44 (Al Rubia’y’s mother, doctor)
  • Osama Fadhil Abbas, 40 (Car salesman)
  • Ali Mohammed Hafedh Abdul Razzaq, 9
  • Mohamed Abbas Mahmoud, 47 (delivery truck driver)
  • Qasini Mohamed Abbas Mahmoud
  • Sa’adi Ali Abbas Alkarkh, 52 (businessman)
  • Mushtaq Karim Abd Al-Razzaq, 18 (soldier guarding a military checkpoint)
  • Ghaniyah Hassan Ali, 55 (preparing for a trip to holy sites)
  • Ibrahim Abid Ayash, 77 (gardener)
  • Hamoud Sa’eed Abttan, 33 (looking for work)
  • Uday Ismail Ibrahiem, 27 (cousin of Abttan, looking for work)
  • Mafadi Sahib Nasir, 26 (taxi driver)
  • Ali Khalil Abdul Hussein, 54 (commuting to work)



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