Nicholas Slatten, a 35-year old former security guard for the private mercenary firm Blackwater, was found guilty of first-degree murder on Wednesday in the third trial stemming from his role in the notorious 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad, Iraq that left 14 Iraqi civilians dead and another 17 injured.
The jury's verdict on Wednesday came after a three-judge federal appeals court panel ordered a retrial for Slatten and resentencing for three of his Blackwater colleagues—Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, and Paul Slough—in August of 2017. Slatten's second murder trial ended in a mistrial in September. While no sentencing date has been set, the murder charge means he faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Outlining the government's evidence for the case, the U.S. Attorney's office in D.C. said in a statement:
[At] approximately noon on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007, several Blackwater security contractors, including Slatten and his former co-defendants, opened fire in and around Nisour Square, a busy traffic circle in the heart of Baghdad.
When they stopped shooting, 14 Iraqi civilians were dead. Those killed included 10 men, two women, and two boys, ages 9 and 11. Another 18 victims were injured. According to the evidence, Slatten was the first to fire, without provocation, killing Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia'y, an aspiring doctor, who was driving his mother to an appointment.
Slatten's murder conviction is for Ahmed's death. As the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday:
SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT
Get our best delivered to your inbox.
Patrick Martin, who is chief of the criminal division at the U.S. Attorney's office in Washington, D.C., told jurors last month that Mr. Slatten had fired the first shots at the traffic circle, setting off the chaotic episode. Mr. Slatten carefully planned to kill the driver of a white Kia, acting out of "hate, prejudice, and some twisted notion of revenge," Mr. Martin said in opening statements.
"You know that this man took this sniper rifle, and through this scope he took aim at Ahmed's head, and he fired. Boom. And he fired again. Boom. And why?" prosecutor Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez reportedly said to jurors in his closing arguments. "Because, ladies and gentlemen, he thought he could get away with it. Nobody would know. He would never have to answer to people like you sitting in this jury room today."
Slatten is being held until he is sentenced by Judge Royce C. Lamberth, according to the U.S. Attorney's office—which added that "Slough, Liberty, and Heard remain in custody and their re-sentencing proceedings remain pending before Judge Lamberth." Meanwhile, Blackwater's infamous former CEO, Erik Prince, has yet to face any consequences for incident.
"Just as with the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib, it is only the low level foot-soldiers of Blackwater that are being held accountable," journalist Jeremy Scahill—author of the book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army—wrote for The Intercept after the first trial in 2014. "Prince and other top Blackwater executives continue to reap profits from the mercenary and private intelligence industries."
Although Prince has since sold off Blackwater, which relaunched as Academi, the billionaire war profiteer—who happens to be the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—served as an adviser to President Donald Trump's transition team and has continued to advocate for the use of mercenaries, urging the administration to privatize the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan.