Ex-guards sen­tenced for Iraq shoot­ings plan ap­peal

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY SAM HANANEL

De­fense lawyers in the United States are vow­ing to ap­peal the con­vic­tions of four for­mer Black­wa­ter se­cu­rity guards af­ter a fed­eral judge handed down lengthy pri­son terms for their roles in a 2007 shoot­ing of un­armed civil­ians in Iraq.

At­tor­neys iden­ti­fied sev­eral is­sues Mon­day as likely form­ing the ba­sis of an ap­peal, in­clud­ing vin­dic­tive pros­e­cu­tion and whether State Depart­ment con­trac­tors could be charged un­der a fed­eral law that cov­ers the over­seas crimes of De­fense Depart­ment civil­ian em­ploy­ees.

The move comes af­ter U. S. Dis­trict Judge Royce Lam­berth sen­tenced for­mer guard Ni­cholas Slat­ten to life in pri­son and three oth­ers to 30-year terms for their roles in the shoot­ings that killed 14 Iraqi civil­ians and wounded 17 oth­ers in Bagh­dad’s Nisoor Square.

Slat­ten, who wit­nesses said was the first to fire shots in the melee, was sen­tenced to life af­ter be­ing con­victed last Oc­to­ber of first-de­gree mur­der. The three other guards — Paul Slough, Evan Lib­erty and Dustin Heard — were each sen­tenced to 30 years and one day in pri­son for charges that in­cluded man­slaugh­ter, at­tempted man­slaugh­ter and us­ing firearms while com­mit­ting a felony.

The in­ci­dent strained U.S.-Iraq re­la­tions and caused an in­ter­na­tional up­roar over the use of pri­vate se­cu­rity guards in a war zone.

Lam­berth an­nounced the sen­tences af­ter a day­long hear­ing at which de­fense lawyers had ar­gued for le­niency and pre­sented char­ac­ter wit­nesses for their clients. At the same time, pros­e­cu­tors asked that those sen­tences — the min­i­mums manda­tory un­der the law — be made even harsher. He re­jected both re­quests.

Ap­pear­ing in court wear­ing leg shack­les and pri­son garb, the for­mer con­trac­tors in­sisted they were in­no­cent.

But Lam­berth said he fully agreed with the jury’s guilty ver­dicts and praised the Jus­tice Depart­ment and the FBI for in­ves­ti­gat­ing the shoot­ing and putting the truth “out there for the world to see.”

Nearly 100 friends and rel­a­tives packed the court­room to show sup­port for the men, with many openly weep­ing through­out the pro­ceed­ings. Sev­eral came to the podium, some chok­ing back tears, to speak glow­ingly of the men they knew as role mod­els and pa­tri­ots who only wanted to help serve their coun­try.

As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Pa­trick Martin de­scribed the shoot­ing as an un­pro­voked am­bush of civil­ians and said the men haven’t shown re­morse or taken re­spon­si­bil­ity. De­fense lawyers coun­tered that the men were tar­geted with gun­fire and shot back in self­de­fense with guns the State Depart­ment had pro­vided them for safety.

Mo­ham­mad Ki­nani Al-Raz­zaq spoke in halt­ing English about the death of his 9-year-old son as a pic­ture of the smil­ing boy, Ali Mo­hammed Hafedh Ab­dul Raz­zaq, was shown on court­room mon­i­tors. He de­manded the court show Black­wa­ter “what the law is.”

De­fense lawyers also ar­gued for mercy, say­ing decades-long sen­tences would be un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally harsh for men who op­er­ated in a stress­ful, war-torn en­vi­ron­ment and who have proud mil­i­tary ca­reers and close fam­ily ties.

AP

Tracy Hughes, right, of Sparta, Ten­nessee, com­forts the mother of Ni­cholas Slat­ten, as fam­ily mem­bers, friends and sup­port­ers of four for­mer Black­wa­ter se­cu­rity guards gather to­gether out­side fed­eral court in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. on Mon­day, April 13.

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