One former Blackwater USA contractor was sentenced to life in prison on Monday, while three others each received 30-year sentences for killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians and wounding 18 more in the 2007 Nisour Square massacre. After pleading guilty in December 2008, a fifth contractor testified as a government witness in the trial and has not yet been sentenced. Blackwater’s founder and former CEO, Erik Prince currently does not face any criminal charges.
At approximately noon on September 16, 2007, a Blackwater convoy codenamed Raven 23 disobeyed orders from US Embassy officials to remain in the Green Zone and instead established a blockade at Nisour Square in Baghdad. While driving his mother to an appointment, Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y stopped his white Kia sedan at the checkpoint and waited for the Blackwater mercenaries to let them pass. Hiding inside the convoy’s command vehicle, Nicholas Slatten aimed his SR-25 sniper rifle through a gun portal and fired a round at Ahmed.
As Ahmed’s head exploded, his car slipped into neutral and slowly began to approach the Blackwater convoy. While attempting to stop the car, Iraqi police officer Ali Khalaf Salman raised his left arm signaling the shooters to stop firing. Inside the sedan, Ahmed’s mother, Mahassin Mohssen Kadhum Al-Khazali, clutched his bleeding head screaming, “My son! My son! Help me, help me!”
A turret gunner, Jeremy Ridgeway, opened fire killing Ahmed’s mother. Another Blackwater shooter launched an M-203 grenade that caused the sedan to erupt into flames. Unleashing sniper fire, machine guns, and grenade launchers, the Blackwater convoy murdered ten unarmed men, two women, and two boys, ages 9 and 11. At least 18 victims were wounded. The only damage inflicted upon the convoy’s command vehicle came from shrapnel by an American grenade fired at close range by a Blackwater operative.
According to witnesses, Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard, and Jeremy Ridgeway attempted to kill everyone in Nisour Square. Another turret gunner, Matthew Murphy, waved his arms warning nearby Iraqis to get down. After ignoring repeated orders to cease firing, the massacre finally ended when Blackwater operatives turned their guns on each other. Instead of killing their own teammates, the shooters eventually decided to stop firing. As the convoy exited the square, some of the shooters continued indiscriminately firing their machine guns at civilian vehicles.
“In killing and maiming unarmed civilians, these defendants acted unreasonably and without justification,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote in a statement. “In combination, the sheer amount of unnecessary human loss and suffering attributable to the defendants’ criminal conduct on Sept. 16, 2007, is staggering.”
In December 2008, Ridgeway pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter. As Ridgeway began cooperating with prosecutors, Judge Ricardo Urbina of Federal District Court in Washington threw out the indictments against Slatten, Liberty, Slough, Heard, and Donald Ball. An appeals court reversed his ruling in 2011, allowing prosecutors to obtain indictments against them. The prosecution chose not to indict Ball again.
On October 22, 2014, Slatten was found guilty of first-degree murder. Slough was convicted on 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 convicted on six counts of voluntary manslaughter, 11 counts of attempted manslaughter, and one firearms offense.
For his role in firing the first shots of the massacre, Slatten was sentenced to life in prison on Monday. Slough, Liberty, and Heard each received prison sentences of 30 years and one day. Ridgeway has not yet been sentenced.
Two weeks after the Nisour Square massacre, Erik Prince testified before the House Oversight Committee. Under oath, Prince lied to U.S. Representatives when asserting that Blackwater never kills innocent civilians. Video leaked by Blackwater operatives reveals convoys running over pedestrians, shooting civilians, and running cars off the road. Prince went on to accuse the U.S. Army of killing the unarmed Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square.