The horrific 2007 Baghdad, Iraq, mass murder incident had resulted in a life sentence for Blackwater USA security contractor Nicholas Slatten and three 30-year sentences for other contractors. Now, the convictions have been overturned, and judges are saying the murderers should be tried again.
The incident that prompted the initial verdict happened in Baghdad at a crowded traffic circle.
The American contractors were driving a convoy when they opened fire. Slatten was the first to allegedly shoot at the white Kia the group believed to be a suspicious car. The vehicle was being driven by medical student Ahmed Haithem — not a terrorist. The bullet that came from Slatten's weapon reportedly hit Haitherm's head, killing him.
Then, other contractors started shooting too, killing Haithem's mother. Eventually, other cars were also hit.
After the shooting stopped, Mohammed Kinani saw that his 9-year-old son had been killed with a bullet that shattered his skull. What was worse was that the boy hadn't been the only one to die that day. At least 14 people had been shot dead overall, even though at least one of the contractors had yelled and asked his colleagues to stop before other cars had been targeted.
To save face, Blackwater promptly said those who were killed were insurgents. But witnesses told a very different story.
After Slatten was sentenced to life in prison, the case was again reviewed in court. On Friday, The Associated Press reports, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Slatten should have been tried separately, effectively tossing his first-degree murder conviction.
The ruling also ordered new sentences for the other three contractors involved in the 2007 shooting, Paul Slough, Dustin Heard, and Evan Liberty.
Claiming the 30-year sentences applied to the men violated the constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, judges said the men were working on behalf of the U.S. government, therefore prosecutors shouldn't have charged them with using military firearms while engaging in another felony.
Apparently in America, murder is less of a crime if committed under the auspices of war.
Arguing that Slatten, who's now 33, may have not been the first to shoot, judges said the man should be tried separately so he may prove his innocence. Still, they added, they did not issue this ruling to excuse the tragic 2007 incident.
“In reaching this conclusion, we by no means intend to minimize the carnage attributable to Slough, Heard and Liberty’s actions,” said U.S. Circuit Judge Karen L. Henderson. “Their poor judgments resulted in the deaths of many innocent people.”
Although the men have been convicted of this crime, they are now to be tried again, with the next court or jury tasked with reviewing their cases knowing full well they shouldn't treat military contractors like common Americans. After all, their logic follows, if the U.S. government has given them a license to kill on its behalf, the justice system must act accordingly.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Damir Sagolj