Four former employees of the American security firm formerly known as Blackwater were convicted by a U.S. Federal District Court Wednesday for their involvement in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad in 2007, according to media reports. Seventeen Iraqi civilians, including many children, were reportedly killed in the shooting in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in September 2007 and at least 18 others were injured.
“This verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war,” Ronald Machen, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said, according to media reports. “Seven years ago, these Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers on innocent men, women and children. Today, they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families.
The trial of the four security guards -- Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard -- focused on the killings of 14 Iraqis and the wounding of 17 others in Baghdad’s Nisour Square on Sept. 16, 2007. The men had claimed self-defense, reportedly arguing that they had been ambushed by armed insurgents. However, federal prosecutors said that they had shown “a grave indifference” to the deaths of unarmed civilians, according to reports.
The shootings had triggered an international uproar over the role of defense contractors in urban warfare. At the time, Blackwater reportedly had a $1 billion contract with the U.S. government to protect American diplomats in Iraq.
More than 70 witnesses, including 30 Iraqis, testified during the course of the trial, which lasted over two months. The verdict was delivered on the 28th day of deliberations by the jurors, according to reports.
A federal judge had, in 2009, dismissed the original case against the security guards, ruling that the Justice Department had withheld key evidence and violated the contractors’ rights. However, In April 2011, a federal appeals court reinstated the charges against the guards, reversing the earlier decision.
Defense lawyers reportedly termed the verdict “wrong” and “incomprehensible.”
“We’re disappointed that the jury found otherwise, but the jury’s verdict does not change the reality of what happened -- and what didn’t happen -- in Nisour Square,” Thomas Connolly, Slatten’s lawyer, said, according to media reports.