The jury in the trial of four former Blackwater guards has been deliberating for more than a month now. They may soon return a verdict in a case that is politically motivated and which has been consistently riddled with inaccurate reporting. Here is a summary of the events as they most likely occurred.
A Blackwater convoy entered Nisour Square, Iraq, in September 2007 and when it left, 17 Iraqis had been killed. That is the only truly undisputed fact in the case against four former Blackwater employees currently on trial. One guard, Nicholas Slatten, is charged with murder and the others are charged with manslaughter and other lesser violations.
The legal standard in this case is whether they reasonably believed they needed to use deadly force to protect the their own lives or the lives of others. This means the truth about threats they actually faced that day is irrelevant. What does matter is what they perceived and believed: If they thought they were being ambushed, then they are not guilty of murder or manslaughter. Let’s review the incident:
Blackwater convoy, Raven 23, entered Nisour Square soon after an IED blast had gone off nearby. During the same week multiple attacks on them had occurred almost every day. They began operations to close off traffic on both sides of the circle and allow their vehicles to cross. During that process, a white Kia sedan approached one of the Blackwater vehicles and that event sparked the entire horrific incident. The Blackwater guards claim they signaled the vehicle to to stop, but when it reached a certain proximity it became a threat to their lives and Slatten opened fire. That split second decision is where the difference between a mistake and a crime resides. Slatten did not have to be correct that the vehicle was a bomb, he simply had to reasonably believe it was one
After Slatten shot the driver of the Kia, an Iraqi policeman came to attempt to aid him and his mother who was the passenger. As he did so, the Blackwater guards say the vehicle continued to roll toward them and they believed the Iraqi officer was pushing it toward them. More of the Blackwater guards began to fire and the situation became increasingly chaotic. According to Blackwater personnel, they began taking fire and believed they were involved in a coordinated ambush. Numerous Iraqi witnesses claim there was no fire at the convoy and the guards simply shot indiscriminately into the crowd.
EXCLUSIVE statetment to BLACKFIVE: During a previous attempt to prosecute the guards in 2008, a State Department Diplomatic Security Officer contacted me about the case. I met with him in person, verified his credentials and confirmed he was on duty when the incident occurred. He provided me with pictures of the Raven 23 vehicles when they returned to the State Department compound, as well as copies of radio logs from the command post. The pictures show numerous bullet strikes on multiple vehicles and the logs confirm what he heard live over the radio, “Contact, Contact, Contact!” as the convoy reported itself under attack by small arms fire and numerous follow on calls stating they were involved in a running gun fight.
Raven 23 also reported the source of the fire was Iraqi Police officers. The insurgents often wore military and police uniforms to allow them to get close to targets so this was not surprising to the guards. The convoy continued to report small arms fire throughout the next 10 minutes and their exit from the area. Damage from small arms fire to their vehicles, including one that had to be towed back to the compound, was verified by multiple State Department personnel. My source said, “ I know the guy who went out to check out the scene and he said there was AK brass all over the place. Blackwater had all US weapons, so that didn’t come from them and somebody was sure shooting at them.” One of the Blackwater vehicles was damaged so badly that it had to be towed back to the State Department compound.
This contemporaneous radio report by the Blackwater guards stating they were being ambushed, as well as the physical evidence that their vehicles took incoming fire, very strongly bolsters a case for reasonable self defense. As it turns out, Slatten was wrong and the first vehicle was not a bomb. The cascade of deadly events he precipitated has led us to the current trial and the ongoing controversy over what, if any, punishment he and his coworkers should face. He bears moral responsibility for those he killed, as do the others, but if they did so acting in good conscience, they should be acquitted of the charges of murder and manslaughter.
Previous stories on this incident.