Prison sentence of former Blackwater guards cut in half by Federal Judge

The three ex-guards together killed 27 Iraqis and wounded 39 others in the Nisour square massacre in 2007

September 06, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
An Iraqi police officer inspects a car destroyed in Nisour Square in Baghdad in a shooting involving Blackwater security guards. Photo: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed

A federal judge in the United States yesterday resentenced three former Blackwater security contractors to more than 10 years in prison for their role in the 2007 Nisour square massacre in Baghdad, Iraq, in the midst of the illegal and controversial US war and occupation of Iraq. The sentences are less than half of the 30 year sentences they were given in 2014.

On September 16, 2007, the Blackwater guards rained machine gun fire and grenades on innocent, unarmed Iraqi civilians after another Blackwater contractor, Nicholas A. Slatten – who himself has been sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder – started shooting at an approaching Kia sedan car without provocation.

As per the prosecution, the firing continued for around 20 minutes, underscoring the utter disregard for human life in the eyes of the culprits. Even though there was evidence that the Blackwater convoy did not come under any incoming fire, the contractors had earlier claimed that they had come under fire for Iraqi terrorists or fighters.

The judge for the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C.), Royce C. Lamberth sentenced the three former security guards, Dustin L. Heard, Evan S. Liberty, and Paul A. Slough, to 12 and a ½ years, 14 years and 15 years respectively. The judge originally sentenced the three to 30 year prison terms in 2014.

However, in 2017, a federal appeals court ordered resentencing, citing that the judge had made a mistake by applying a law that prescribes 30 year sentences for offenses which involve machine guns. The appeals court had ruled that that particular law was not applicable to the use of government-issued machine guns in a war zone.

Judge Lamberth, while sentencing the three security guards, said that their actions were “just a wild shooting that can never condoned,” and that “in the United States, we hold our armed forces and our contractors accountable for their actions.”

Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Slough to 30 years, and Heard and Liberty to slightly lesser sentences. The federal prosecutor asked the judge to stick with the original sentences and argued that a lesser sentence would be ‘grossly inappropriate’ given the gravity of the offenses.

The Judge also read out the names of all the victims of the massacre perpetrated by the guards the 27 dead and 39 injured. According to the prosecution, Slough is responsible for 13 of the deaths and 17 wounded, Liberty is responsible for 8 of the deaths and 17 wounded, and Heard is responsible for six of the deaths and 11 of the wounded.