[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Monday sentenced a former Blackwater security contractor to life in prison and three others to 30 years for the killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007 [NYT report]. Nicholas Slatten, a former Army sniper, was found guilty of murder for firing the first fatal shots. The other three men, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty and Paul Slough, were found guilty of manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and use of a machine gun in a violent crime. The 2007 shooting ultimately ended in the deaths of 17 people. While in court for their sentencing, the men maintained their innocence and claimed that the shootings were justified. Judge Royce Lamberth, although agreeing with the October 2014 guilty verdicts [JURIST report], held back tears when describing the defendants as “good young men who’ve never been in trouble, who served their country.” However, he made it clear that such gruesome, unprovoked shootings would never be tolerated, no matter what the circumstances.
Blackwater [JURIST news archive] and its employees have faced legal controversy in recent years for activities during the Iraq war. In October the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries urged [JURIST report] stronger global and regulation of private security companies. The call came on the heels of the guilty verdict against the four ex-Blackwater security guards. 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. Blackwater ceased operations in Baghdad [JURIST report] in May 2009 when its security contracts expired and were not renewed.