The Justice Department on Thursday announced new manslaughter charges against four Blackwater mercenaries involved in the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Iraq that left dozens of innocent civilians dead or severely wounded.
The deadly incident in many ways began the unraveling of Blackwater, founded by a wealthy, ex-Navy Seal named Eric Prince. Subsequent to Nisour Square, Blackwater changed its name twice—first to Xe and then to its current name, Academi—and Prince ultimately severed ties with his company following a stream of bad press.
Justice for the victims of the killings, however, remained illusive as earlier charges against the for-profit militants were dropped and coverage of the story dimmed as the U.S. media turned its attention away from the damage wrought by the bloody and extended damage caused by the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
As The Washington Post reports:
A federal grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia returned a fresh indictment charging the four guards with voluntary manslaughter and other crimes in the shooting in Nisour Square.
The guards were providing security under a State Department contract for diplomats in Iraq at the time of the shooting. On Sept. 16, 2007, they were part of a four-vehicle convoy that was securing an evacuation route for U.S. officials fleeing a bombing. The guards told U.S. investigators that they opened fire on the crowd in self-defense.
In a long investigation after the attack, the FBI and federal prosecutors concluded that the shooting was an “unprovoked illegal attack” on civilians.
“Today’s indictment charges four Blackwater guards with killing or wounding 32 defenseless Iraqi citizens, including women and children, in a Baghdad traffic circle in September 2007,” U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said in a statement. “These defendants abused their power through a relentless attack on unarmed civilians that recklessly exceeded any possible justification.”
And Al-Jazeera adds:
The original US charges filed against the men in 2008 were thrown out in December 2009, about a month before a scheduled trial.
The dismissal outraged many Iraqis, who said it showed Americans considered themselves above the law. Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Baghdad in 2010, expressed his "personal regret" for the shootings and declared that the US would appeal the court decision.
The case ran into trouble because the State Department promised the guards that their statements explaining what happened would not be used in a criminal case.
The guards told investigators that they fired their weapons, a crucial admission because forensic evidence could not determine who fired.
Because of a limited immunity deal, prosecutors had to build their case without those statements, a high legal hurdle.
The case was reinstated in 2011 and prosecutors began a lengthy review of what charges they could prove in court.
The new indictment returned by a grand jury in Washington charges 33 counts, including voluntary manslaughter, attempt to commit manslaughter and using a firearm in a crime of violence.
The men, Paul Slough, Nicholas Slatten, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard had pleaded not guilty to the nearly identical charges brought five years ago.
Writing in The Nation in 2010, journalist Jeremy Scahill recounted the story of the massacre's youngest victim, Ali Kinani, who was just nine years old when he was gunned down by the Blackwater soldiers. Scahill concludes his story about Kinani and the events of that day by quoting Ali's father, Mohammed, who said: "I wish the US Congress would ask [Erik Prince] why they killed my innocent son, who called himself Allawi. Do you think that this child was a threat to your company? This giant company that has the biggest weapons, the heaviest weapons, the planes, and this boy was a threat to them?"
"I want Americans to know that this was a child that died for nothing."
And Democracy Now! now hosted this exclusive report by Scahill and filmmaker and journalist Rick Rowly about Kinani and Nisour Square: