Four Former Blackwater Employees Sentenced to Decades in Prison for Fatal 2007 Shootings in Iraq
WASHINGTON—One former security guard for Blackwater USA was sentenced today to a term of life in prison, and three others were each sentenced to prison terms of 30 years and one day for their roles in the Sept. 16, 2007, shooting at Nisur Square in Baghdad, that resulted in the killing of 14 unarmed civilians and the wounding of numerous others.
The sentencing, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and Andrew G. McCabe, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
The defendants are Nicholas Abram Slatten, 31, of Sparta, Tennessee; Paul Alvin Slough, 35, of Keller, Texas; Evan Shawn Liberty, 32, of Rochester, New Hampshire; and Dustin Laurent Heard, 33, of Maryville, Tennessee. All were found guilty by a jury on Oct. 22, 2014, following a two and one-half-month trial. They were sentenced by the Honorable Senior Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District of Columbia.
Slatten, who was accused of firing the first shots, was sentenced to life in prison. The jury had found him guilty of one count of first-degree murder.
Slough, Liberty and Heard were each sentenced to prison terms of 30 years and one day. The jury had found Slough guilty of 13 counts of voluntary manslaughter, 17 counts of attempted manslaughter and one firearms offense. Liberty was found guilty of eight counts of voluntary manslaughter, 12 counts of attempted manslaughter and one firearms offense. Heard was found guilty of six counts of voluntary manslaughter, 11 counts of attempted manslaughter and one firearms offense.
At a day-long sentencing hearing, Judge Lamberth said that the sentences reflected the seriousness of the crimes and the large number of victims. He said that the U.S. government “should be commended for finding and exposing the truth of what happened in Nisur Square.”
In a statement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the prosecution reflected the commitment of the American justice system to the rule of law and expressed hope that the sentencing of the four defendants will bring some comfort to survivors of the shootings and the family members of those who died or were injured. “In killing and maiming unarmed civilians, these defendants acted unreasonably and without justification,” the statement said. “In combination, the sheer amount of unnecessary human loss and suffering attributable to the defendants’ criminal conduct on Sept.16, 2007, is staggering.”
“These sentencings are the result of the enduring resolve by law enforcement to protect victims of violent crime,” said Assistant Director in Charge McCabe. “Because this crime scene was so large and required international travel, both by witnesses and by investigators, this case required a tremendous amount of resources, time and investigative expertise. The results of this case demonstrate that the FBI will investigate violations of U.S. law no matter where they occur in order to bring justice to innocent victims.”
Another Blackwater security guard, Jeremy P. Ridgeway, pleaded guilty in December 2008 to voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter. Ridgeway, who testified as a government witness in the trial, has not yet been sentenced.
The defendants worked for Blackwater USA, a private security contractor that was paid by the U.S. government to provide protective services to U.S. officials.
The trial began June 17, 2014. Over the next 10 weeks, the government presented testimony from 71 witnesses, including 30 from Iraq. This represented the largest group of foreign witnesses ever to travel to the United States for a criminal trial. The witnesses included 13 people who were wounded in the shootings, as well as relatives of many of those who died. The government’s witnesses also included nine members of “Raven 23,” the Blackwater team that was on the scene on the day of the shootings.
According to the government’s evidence, at approximately noon on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007, several Blackwater security contractors, including the four defendants, opened fire in and around Nisur Square, a busy traffic circle in the heart of Baghdad. When they stopped shooting, 14 Iraqi civilians were dead. Those killed included 10 men, two women and two boys, ages 9 and 11. Another 18 victims were injured.
The four defendants and 15 other Blackwater security contractors were assigned to a convoy of four heavily-armed trucks known as a Tactical Support Team, using the call sign “Raven 23.” Shortly before noon, Raven 23 learned that a car bomb had detonated in central Baghdad near a location where a U.S official was being escorted by a Blackwater personal security detail team. Raven 23 team members promptly reported to their convoy vehicles, and the convoy drove to a secured checkpoint between the Green Zone and Red Zone.
Once there, in disregard of an order from Blackwater’s command, the team’s shift leader directed Raven 23 to leave the Green Zone and establish a blockade in Nisur Square, a busy traffic circle that was immediately adjacent to the Green Zone. While occupying the southern part of the traffic circle, seven of the 19 members of Raven 23, including the four defendants and Ridgeway fired their weapons resulting in the deaths or injury of the unarmed Iraqi civilians there. While leaving the traffic circle, Slough continued to fire his weapon resulting in additional deaths and injuries.
Finally, further away, north of the traffic circle, Slough and Ridgeway again fired their weapons resulting in the injury of three more unarmed Iraqi civilians.
The first to be killed was Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y, 21, an aspiring doctor, who was driving his mother to an appointment. His mother, Mahassin Mohssen Kadhum Al-Khazali, 44, a medical doctor, also was killed. Others who died included Ali Mohammed Hafedh Abdul Razzaq, 9, who was traveling with his family; Osama Fadhil Abbas, 52, a businessman who sold used cars and who was enroute to a business meeting; Mohamed Abbas Mahmoud, 47, a delivery truck driver, and his 11-year-old son, Qasim Mohamed Abbas Mahmoud; Sa’adi Ali Abbas Alkarkh, 52, a businessman; Mushtaq Karim Abd Al-Razzaq, 18, an Iraqi soldier who was standing at a military checkpoint; Ghaniyah Hassan Ali, 55, who was traveling with her daughter on a public bus, and who was in the area to get documentation for a trip to holy sites; Ibrahim Abid Ayash, 77, a gardener, who was traveling in another bus; Hamoud Sa’eed Abttan, 33, and his cousin, Usday Ismail Ibrahiem, 27, who were out looking for work with the Iraqi Army; Mahdi Sahib Nasir, 26, a taxi driver, and Ali Khalil Abdul Hussein, 54, a motorcyclist who was commuting to work.
The jury considered charges involving injuries to 14 men and three women. Because of travel issues, witnesses to support an 18th charge of attempted manslaughter did not appear at the trial and the charge related to that victim’s injuries was dismissed by the government.
This case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. The Iraqi Ministry of Interior and the Iraqi National Police provided cooperation and assistance in the investigation.
The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anthony Asuncion, Christopher R. Kavanaugh and T. Patrick Martin, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Crabb Jr. and David Mudd, of the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Columbia. The case was originally indicted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan M. Malis and Kenneth Kohl of the District of Columbia.