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Three ex-Blackwater mercenaries resentenced for 2007 Baghdad massacre

A federal court in the US gave new, shorter sentences to the former security contractors for their involvement in the killing of unarmed civilians in the Iraqi capital
Vehicle destroyed in Blackwater attack in Baghdad in 2007 (AFP)
A vehicle that was destroyed in the 2007 Blackwater attack in Baghdad (AFP/File photo)

Three former Blackwater security contractors were given new sentences on Thursday for their roles in a notorious massacre of unarmed civilians in Baghdad in 2007, the New York Times reported.

Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard were convicted in 2014 of multiple counts of manslaughter and sentenced to 30 years in prison for their roles in the massacre in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, widely seen as one of the darkest moments of the Iraq war.

They were working for the US mercenary firm previously known as Blackwater.

But in 2017, a federal appeals court threw out the lengthy terms for the three men, saying the trial judge had incorrectly invoked a law that requires 30-year sentences for such offences involving machine guns.

On Thursday, the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia resentenced the three former guards, giving Slough 15 years, Liberty 14 years and Heard 12 years and seven months, the Times said.

In August, another ex-Blackwater guard, Nicholas Slatten, was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the Baghdad massacre. A federal jury had found Slatten guilty of first-degree murder in December.

Slatten was convicted for killing Ahmed Haitham Ahmed Al Rubiaai, 19, an aspiring doctor who was one of 17 civilians killed by Blackwater guards in Baghdad on 16 September 2007. Slatten, a sniper, is said to have fired the first shots, which also injured more than 20 others. 

A previous conviction in 2014 for Slatten was overturned on appeal and a second trial during the summer of 2018 ended in a hung jury.

All four former guards maintained their innocence.

A fifth Blackwater contractor, Jeremy Ridgeway, had previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter and cooperated with prosecutors.

In May, the Times reported that two US officials said President Donald Trump was considering a presidential pardon for Slatten and several others. 

Earlier this year, the US president pardoned an American soldier who was convicted of murdering an Iraqi detainee in an unrelated incident in 2008.

Rights advocates decried that decision as an endorsement of extrajudicial executions.

Founded by former Navy Seal Erik Prince, Blackwater was sold and now operates as Virginia-based Academi.

Blackwater has been at the heart of widespread criticism over the use of private contractors in Iraq following the US invasion in 2003.

The Baghdad shooting, in particular, stood out for its brutality and sparked debate over the actions of mercenaries employed in support of the US army in the country.