Families of Blackwater massacre victims demand death penalty for guards

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Thursday, October 23, 2014

Four former Blackwater guards found guilty for their role in the 2007 massacre of at least 14 civilians in Baghdad's busy Nisur Square should be executed, relatives of victims said Thursday.

Four former Blackwater security guards were found guilty Wednesday for their roles in a notorious 2007 mass shooting in Baghdad that left at least 14 civilians dead and deepened resentment of America's involvement in Iraq.

The four ex-employees of the US private security firm were convicted on an array of charges ranging from first degree murder to voluntary manslaughter.

Their convictions followed a two-month trial that heard how they opened fire with sniper rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers in Baghdad's bustling Nisour Square as they escorted a diplomatic convoy.

"They should be executed in the same place in Nisur Square where they committed the crime," said Hussein Ali Abbas, the brother of one of the victims.

His brother Saadi was on the way to visit a friend when the shooting occurred, and tried to flee but was gunned down anyway, Abbas said.

"The conviction is not enough," he said. "Justice was not achieved."

Khaled Walid, whose father was among those killed, agreed: "Everyone said they should be sentenced to death."

"I demand the harshest sentence," said Saddam Jawad, whose mother was killed. "If there is the death penalty in America, we demand the death penalty."

But the death penalty is not on the table for any of them.

One guard, Nicholas Slatten, was convicted of first-degree murder, which carries a potential life sentence. The others were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and will be jailed for at least 15 years for each killing.

Hassan Jabr Salman, who was wounded in the shooting, welcomed the convictions after the long delay.

"Thanks be to God... Justice was achieved at last," he said.

While the conviction does not go as far as he would like, it is still "a victory for the martyrs and the wounded."

The four men were ordered detained in custody ahead of their sentencing, which is yet to be fixed. Lawyers said they would appeal.

"The verdict is wrong, incomprehensible, we're devastated but we're gonna fight every step of the way, we still think we're gonna win, we're gonna appeal," David Schertler, defense attorney for Dustin Heard, said.

"People who could laugh, who could love, were turned into bloodied, bullet-riddled corpses, people who were not legitimate targets... who were no real threat to them," federal prosecutor Anthony Asuncion said during the trial.

Wednesday's guilty verdicts came after years of legal twists and turns in US courts.

In 2009, a US judge dismissed charges against five former Blackwater employees because certain statements they made immediately after the event could not be used against them.

Two years later, an appeals court reinstated the indictments against four defendants, opening the way for the trial in Washington.

A judge dismissed the case against Slatten in April because of a technicality. Federal prosecutors then refiled the first-degree murder charge against him after several weeks.

Iraqi officials say 17 civilians were killed, while US investigators recorded 14 deaths. A further 18 Iraqis were wounded.

In the aftermath of the killings, Blackwater was forced to cease operating in the country.

But a US diplomatic cable released by whistle blower website WikiLeaks said hundreds of former Blackwater guards kept working in Iraq for other companies.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)


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