WASHINGTON (CN) – Vying to convict a former Blackwater security guard of a war-time shooting where 14 Iraqi civilians were killed, federal prosecutors primed the jury with photos of the massacre, and followed up Friday with the testimony of one of the first Americans to arrive at the scene.
The Sept. 16, 2007, shooting in Baghdad’s Nisour Square happened during the bloodiest part of the U.S. war effort. After a car bomb exploded near Izdihar Compound earlier that day, the private security contractor assigned its tactical support team Raven 23 to secure an evacuation route for a diplomat in the area.
At some point after they entered Nisour traffic circle, five of the Blackwater guards began firing machine guns and grenade launchers.
With the guards claiming self-defense, that they had been attacked first by insurgents in the crowd, prosecutors on Friday morning showed the jury pictures of burned-up, bullet-ridden vehicles caught in the shooting.
Inside a white Kia sedan, a young medical student was killed along with his mother who had been riding in the passenger seat.
Building their case that the shooting was unprovoked, prosecutors called Col. David, one of the first Americans to arrive on the scene, to the stand.
Boslego testified that he thoroughly surveyed the area and saw no evidence of any threat to the convoy.
Defense attorneys for Nicholas Slatten, a 34-year-old charged with one charge of first-degree murder, say the guards had already received reports of a second car bomb, and that they took aim at the Kia after it had lurched at them.
But Boslego testified for the government Friday that rocket-propelled grenade launchers would be the only weapon capable of penetrating the armored vehicles used by Blackwater, which is now known as Academi.
Other evidence of an insurgent attack, Boslego said, would include expended cartridges from semi-automatic AK-47s – the weapon of choice among Iraqis at the time.
There was no sign of either next to the Kia in Nisour Square.
“The only thing I saw in this vehicle was the charred remains of the driver,” Boslego said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez then asked Boslego to explain a picture of several AK-47 casings found on the ground at a bus stop outside of the traffic circle. Boslego said the casings appeared too close to one another to have gotten there from gunfire.
“Somebody cleaned up and basically placed these here,” he said.
Earlier in his testimony, the colonel explained that semiautomatic weapons ordinarily expend cartridges over a wider area. Boslego also said that the soil had the consistency of concrete because of months of drought. Noting that some of the cartridges in the photo appeared embedded in the soil, Boslego said they were likely there since the prior rain.
Boslego also spoke about his role in arranging State Department interviews two days after the attack with Iraqis who had witnessed the shooting.
Although he did not sit in on the interviews, Boslego said many of the interpreters who facilitated the interviews had complained that the American interviewers were harsh, and in some cases called them liars.
“They were very upset by the way the Iraqis were treated by the U.S.,” he said.
Due to a family emergency of one of the jurors, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth interrupted Boslego’s testimony early on Friday. Proceedings resume Monday at 10 a.m. for Day 3 of what is expected to be a month-long trial.
Represented by Williams & Connolly and Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis, Slatten is on trial for the second time related to the Nisour Square shooting after the D.C. Circuit reversed his earlier conviction last year.
Slatten had initially been tried in 2014 alongside three other members of Raven 23. Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Evan Liberty were all convicted of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. While they each got sentences of 30 years and a day, Judge Lamberth sentenced Slatten to life in prison.
The D.C. Circuit ordered resentencing for this trio.
Though prosecutors say Slatten fired the first shots in Nisour Square, one of his co-defendants signed a statement two days after the massacre in which the co-defendant swore to having fired the first shots. Without identifying the co-defendant in question the D.C. Circuit said his testimony should have been deemed admissable for Slatten’s trial.
Slatten and the other three were indicted along with a fifth Blackwater guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, who pleaded guilty. Ridgeway was sentenced to a year and a day in prison in 2015.