Four former Blackwater security guards were convicted Wednesday in the 2007 shootings of more than 30 Iraqis in Baghdad, an incident that inflamed anti-American sentiment around the globe and was denounced by critics as an illustration of a war gone horribly wrong.
The men claimed self-defense, but federal prosecutors argued that they had shown “a grave indifference” to the carnage their actions would cause. All four were ordered immediately to jail.
Their lawyers are promising to file appeals. The judge did not immediately set a sentencing date.
The federal jury found Nicholas Slatten guilty of first-degree murder, the most serious charge in a multi-count indictment. The three other guards — Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard — were found guilty of multiple counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun violations.
The outcome after a summer-long trial and weeks of jury deliberation appeared to stun the defense.
David Schertler, a lawyer for Heard, said, “The verdict is wrong, it’s incomprehensible. We’re devastated. We’re going to fight it every step of the way. We still think we’re going to win.”
However, one of those struck by gunfire in the shootings, Hassan Jabir, said in Baghdad that “at last we are hearing good news where justice has been achieved and Blackwater will receive their punishment.” He said there are two bullets still inside his body, one in his hand and one in his back, which doctors have said it would be very risky to remove.
The shootings on Sept. 16, 2007, caused an international uproar over the role of defense contractors in urban warfare.
The State Department had hired Blackwater to protect American diplomats in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, and elsewhere in the country. Blackwater convoys of four heavily armored vehicles operated in risky environments where car bombs and attacks by insurgents were common.
On the murder charge, Slatten could face a maximum penalty of life in prison. The other three defendants could face decades behind bars.
The case was mired in legal battles for years, making it uncertain whether the defendants would ever be tried.
The trial itself focused on the killings of 14 Iraqis and the wounding of 17 others. During an 11-week trial, prosecutors summoned 72 witnesses, including Iraqi victims, their families and former colleagues of the defendant Blackwater guards.