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'This Was Murder,' Says Judge, Sentencing Ex-Blackwater Guard to Life for Nisour Square Massacre

Welcoming the sentence, one attorney said, "Justice prevails for my clients—six families that suffered tragic losses that day."

Nicholas Slatten

Former Blackwater security guard Nicholas Slatten leaves federal court on June 11, 2014. (Photo: Cliff Owen/AP file)

Rejecting claims from defense attorneys and family members that U.S. prosecutors scapegoated former Blackwater security guard Nicholas Slatten to improve U.S.-Iraqi relations, a federal judge sentenced former Blackwater security guard Nicholas Slatten to life in prison Wednesday for his role in the notorious 2007 Nisour Square massacre.

"The jury got it exactly right," Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for D.C. reportedly said while issuing the sentence. "This was murder."

Paul Dickinson, an attorney who represented families of six massacre victims—including 9-year-old Ali Kinani—welcomed the sentence in a series of tweets Wednseday evening, declaring that "justice prevails" for his clients.

U.S. prosecutors charged that on Sept. 16, 2007, Slatten fired the first shots into a crowded Baghdad traffic circle, killing 19-year-old Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia'y and setting off a flurry of machine gun and grenade fire that left 14 Iraqi civilians dead and over a dozen more injured.

"Several of Slatten's supporters openly accused prosecutors of scapegoating an innocent man in order to placate Iraqi public opinion," The Associated Press reported. "The shootings strained U.S.-Iraqi relations and focused intense international scrutiny on the extensive use of private military contractors in Iraq."

As journalist Jeremy Scahill detailed in his book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, the company, "founded by secretive right-wing Christian supremacist Erik Prince...had deep ties to the Bush administration and served as a sort of neoconservative Praetorian Guard for a borderless war launched in the immediate aftermath of 9/11."

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Prince has since move on from Blackwater, which relaunched as Academi, but the billionaire war profiteer—and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVoshas advised the Trump administration on intelligence and defense issues.

According to The Washington Post, Judge Lamberth said Wednesday

he agreed with jurors that evidence showed that the convoy was not under insurgent fire and that Slatten shot into Al Rubia'y's vehicle with premeditation, striking the medical student between the eyes.

Lamberth, a U.S. Army captain and lawyer who served in Vietnam, disputed Slatten's defenders' claims that his conduct was justified, saying he had seen combat, "but I was in a situation where we depended on each other to carry out orders to ensure that innocent people were not needlessly killed, and we followed those orders."

A jury found Slatten, now 35, guilty of first-degree murder in December. That verdict came as part of his third trial, after an appeals court ordered a retrial for Slatten—and resentencing for Blackwater contractors Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, and Paul Slough—in August of 2017, and Slatten's second trial ended in a mistrial in September of 2018.

Slatten's new sentence may still not stick. The New York Times reported Wednesday that his attorneys "made clear that they would keep fighting, including by asking the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to overturn the sentence and the verdict."

The Times also pointed to the newspaper's report from May that President Donald Trump might be considering a pardon for Slatten, given that "the White House had requested paperwork about his and a handful of other cases, according to two United States officials."

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