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Murder Verdict for Shameful Iraq Firefight

(CN) - Four former Blackwater Worldwide security contractors were found guilty Wednesday for the unprovoked 2007 firefight that left 14 Iraqis dead.

After a 2 1/2-month-long trial , Nicholas Slatten was found guilty of murder while Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and firearms violations. A fifth colleague, Jeremy Ridgeway, previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The deadly shooting, which took place in Baghdad's Nisour Square, killed 14 Iraqis and wounded 20 more.

Prosecutors said the shooting was unprovoked, but the former guards claimed insurgents had attacked their Raven 23 unit.

Raven 23 had been ordered to evacuate a diplomat from the Izdihar Compound after a bomb exploded nearby, but Commander Jimmy Watson received an order to stand by and not leave the Green Zone upon reaching a checkpoint there.

Watson instead allegedly made a "tactical decision" to move out and secure Nisour Square so that the diplomat would have a safe evacuation route.

The federal jury in Washington, D.C., heard evidence that the four defendants bragged about killing Iraqis, fired their weapons indiscriminately and threw objects at civilians prior to the incident at Nisour Square.

Slatten "made statements that he wanted to kill as many Iraqis as he could as 'payback for 9/11'" and "repeatedly boasted about the number of Iraqis he shot," the government alleged.

Prosecutors also showed that the former Blackwater guards routinely threw water bottles and other items at unarmed civilians, vehicles, wagons and bicycles, without justification, in an attempt to break automobile windows, injure and harass people, and for sport.

The case faced multiple procedural setbacks, leading many to believe the Blackwater guards would not be held accountable for their crime.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington, D.C., dismissed the indictment in June 2010 based on prosecutorial misconduct, but the D.C. Circuit reinstated the case in April 2011.

At trial, several Iraqi witnesses testified about witnessing the deaths of their children.

The defendants' colleagues also testified against them. Matthew Murphy, a former Blackwater contractor, said: "I've seen people completely unarmed, people doing nothing wrong, get shot." He added that the Nisour Square shooting was "the most horrible, botching thing I've ever seen in my life."

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen called the verdict "a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war."

Blackwater Worldwide changed its name twice after the corporation became intimately associated with public awareness of wartime crimes, and gross mismanagement of Pentagon resources.

It was renamed Xe Services in 2009, and is now known as Academi.

The Center for Constitutional Rights represented Iraqi victims of the Nisour Square shooting in a case against Blackwater that settled in 2010. That group's legal director, Baher Azmy, applauded the verdict but said "holding individuals responsible is not enough."

"While today's verdict cannot bring back the innocent Iraqis killed at Nisoor Square, it is a step towards full accountability for Blackwater's actions," Azmy said in a statement.

Military contractors still play an increasing role in America's wars today, he added. "The U.S. government continues to award Blackwater and its successor entities millions of dollars each year in contracts, essentially rewarding war crimes," he said.

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