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Blackwater guard's Iraq massacre conviction thrown out

Appeals court rejects Nicholas Slatten's murder conviction, orders re-sentencing of three others for roles in deaths of 14 unarmed civilians
Vehicle destroyed in Blackwater attack in Baghdad (AFP)

A federal appeals court on Friday threw out the murder conviction of an ex-Blackwater security guard and ordered three of his former colleagues to be re-sentenced for their roles in the 2007 massacre of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit ordered a new trial after tossing out the murder conviction of former security contractor Nicholas Slatten.

The court said Slatten should have had a separate trial instead of being tried alongside his former colleagues. At a new trial, Slatten would be able to introduce evidence that he did not fire the first shot.

Separately, the court said Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Evan Liberty, who were all convicted of manslaughter and other offences for their respective roles in the killings, should be re-sentenced because their 30-year prison terms were too long.

The court also threw out one of Liberty's convictions for attempted manslaughter.

The 16 September 2007 massacre stood out for its brutality even in a city in the grip of a bitter sectarian war, and sparked debate over the role of private security contractors working for the US government in war zones.

A heavily armed, four-truck Blackwater Worldwide convoy in which the men were travelling had been trying to clear a path for US diplomats after a nearby car bomb.

At Nisur Square, the four guards opened fire on Iraqis, including women and children, with machine guns and grenade launchers. In addition to the 14 slain, 17 Iraqis were wounded.

Slatten's murder conviction was for shooting dead the driver of a white Kia car that had stopped at a traffic circle.

The justice department's case against Slatten "hinged on his having fired the first shots, his animosity toward the Iraqis having led him to target the white Kia unprovoked," the court said in the unsigned ruling.

But the statements made by the unidentified co-defendant immediately afterward that he fired the first shot "strike at the heart of that theory and instead point to the co-defendant, not Slatten," the court said.

The defendants were convicted in October 2014. Slatten was sentenced to life in prison.

Blackwater was later sold and is now operating as Virginia-based Academi.