A federal appeals court has thrown out the prison sentences of former Blackwater contractors who were involved in a 2007 massacre in Nisoor Square in central Baghdad that left 17 civilians dead and 20 injured when they opened fire with machine guns and threw grenades into the crowded public space.   The appeals court ruled three of the contractors could be resentenced, meaning their 30-year prison sentences could be dramatically shortened. A fourth contractor’s murder conviction was thrown out entirely, so he’ll now face a new trial.

The Blackwater guards claimed that the convoy was ambushed and that they fired at the attackers in defense of the convoy. The Iraqi government and Iraqi police investigator Faris Saadi Abdul stated that the killings were unprovoked.  The Iraqi government claimed that as the convoy drew close to Nisour Square, a Kia sedan carrying a woman and her adult son was approaching the square from a distance, driving slowly on the wrong side of the road, ignoring a police officer’s whistle to clear a path for the convoy. The security team fired warning shots and then lethal fire at the Kia. They then set off stun grenades to clear the scene. Iraqi police and Iraqi Army soldiers, mistaking the stun grenades for fragmentation grenades, opened fire at the Blackwater men, to which they returned fire.

The Blackwater guards contend that the Kia continued to approach even when fired upon and after an Iraqi policeman went over to the car, it looked as if the policeman was pushing it.  They feared they were under attack by a car bomb so they fired at the car, killing both occupants as well as the Iraqi policeman.  Iraqi police officers began to fire at the Blackwater men. The guards felt they could not be sure they were dealing with actual police since insurgents often disguise themselves by wearing police uniforms.

A military report appeared to corroborate “the Iraqi government’s contention that Blackwater was at fault.  Blackwater Worldwide’s license to operate in Iraq was temporarily revoked.  An FBI investigation found that, of the 17 Iraqis killed by the guards, at least 14 were shot without cause.

In 2008, the U.S. charged five Blackwater guards with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and a weapons violation.  On December 31, 2009, a U.S. district judge dismissed all charges on the grounds that the case against the Blackwater guards had been improperly built on testimony given in exchange for immunity.

In 2011, a U.S. federal appeals court reinstated the manslaughter charges against Paul A. Slough, Evan S. Liberty, Dustin L. Heard and Donald W. Ball after closed-door testimony. A fifth guard had his charges dismissed, and a sixth guard -Jeremy Ridgeway pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.

On October 22, 2014, a Federal District Court jury convicted Nick Slatten of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison.  Three other guards Paul A.Slough, Evan S. Liberty and Dustin L.Heard were found guilty of all three counts of voluntary manslaughter and using a machine gun to commit a violent crime.  They were each sentenced to 30 years in prison.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed Slatten’s murder conviction and ordered the other defendants to be re-sentenced. A new trial was also recommended for Slatten, on the grounds that it was unjustifiable to try him with his co-defendants, and that he should have been tried separately.

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