One by one, four former Blackwater security contractors wearing blue jumpsuits and leg irons stood before a federal judge on Monday and spoke publicly for the first time since a deadly 2007 shooting in Iraq.
The men had been among several private American security guards who fired into Baghdad’s crowded Nisour Square on Sept. 16, 2007, and last October they were convicted of killing 14 unarmed Iraqis in what prosecutors called a wartime atrocity. Yet on Monday, as they awaited sentences that they knew would send them to prison for most if not all of their lives, they defiantly asserted their innocence.
The judge, Royce C. Lamberth, strongly disagreed, sentencing Mr. Slatten to life in prison and handing 30-year sentences to the three others. A fifth former guard, Jeremy P. Ridgeway of California, had pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and testified against his former colleagues. He has not been sentenced but testified that he hoped to avoid any prison time.
The ruling ended a long investigation into the Nisour Square shooting, a signature, gruesome moment in the Iraq war that highlighted America’s reliance on private contractors to maintain security in combat zones.
No such company was more powerful than Blackwater, which won more than $1 billion in government contracts. Its employees, most of them military veterans, protected American diplomats overseas and became enmeshed in the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine counterterrorism operations. Its founder, Erik Prince, was a major donor to the Republican Party.
In Iraq, Blackwater was perceived as so powerful that its employees could kill anyone and get away with it, said Mohammed Hafedh Abdulrazzaq Kinani, whose 9-year-old son, Ali, was killed in Nisour Square.
“Blackwater had power like Saddam Hussein,” Mr. Kinani said in a long, emotional appeal to the judge on Monday. “The power comes from the United States.” He added later: “Today we see who will win. The law? Or Blackwater?”
Excerpt, read more here Ex-Blackwater Guards Given Long Terms for Killing Iraqis