[JURIST] A federal jury in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] returned a guilty verdict on Wednesday for four ex-Blackwater security guards, now Academi [official website], who shot and killed 14 Iraqis and wounded 17 in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad. Nicholas Slatten was found guilty [NPR report] of first-degree murder, and three others were found guilty of multiple counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun violations: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard. The men were serving as private contractors, hired to protect members of the US Department of State (DOS) [official website], when they fired into a group of people [NYT report] in a crowded intersection in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. Counsel for the men claimed self-defense [AP report] and argued the men were fired on by insurgents and Iraqi police before opening fire themselves. The federal prosecution argued the men showed a grave indifference to the consequence of their actions and the shooting was not provoked. More than a dozen Iraqis were scheduled to offer testimony [NYT report] in the 11-week trial, which was dismissed [JURIST report] by the DC District Court in 2010. The trial has raised a number of legal issues, including federal jurisdiction over contractors working for the DOS, and Wednesday’s ruling is expected to face a number of appeals in the upcoming months and years.
Blackwater [JURIST news archive] and its employees have faced legal controversy in recent years for activities in the Iraqi war. In August 2012 Blackwater agreed to settle [JURIST report] federal criminal charges dealing with export and firearm violations. Also in 2012 Blackwater reached a confidential settlement agreement [JURIST report] with survivors and families of victims in the 2007 shooting incident. In 2011 two former Blackwater contractors were convicted of involuntary manslaughter [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia for their role in the May 2009 shooting deaths of two Afghan nationals. Blackwater ceased operations in Baghdad [JURIST report] in May 2009 when its security contracts expired and were not renewed.