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World

Ex-Blackwater guards to get stiff sentences for Iraq shootings

By Associated Press 13/4/2015
Family members, friends and supporters of four former Blackwater security guards arrive at E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse in Washington, Monday, April 13, 2015. AP file photo.
Family members, friends and supporters of four former Blackwater security guards arrive at E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse in Washington, Monday, April 13, 2015. AP file photo.
WASHINGTON — A US federal judge says he won't deviate from the lengthy mandatory minimum sentences faced by four former Blackwater security guards for their role in a 2007 shooting that killed 14 Iraqi civilians and wounded more than a dozen others.

US District Judge Royce Lamberth on Monday rejected a defense motion to impose lesser sentences on the four, as well as a motion by prosecutors to increase the penalties.

That means that former guard Nicholas Slatten appears likely to be sentenced to life in prison for his first-degree murder conviction, and that three others — Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard — appear headed for 30-year terms for multiple counts of manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and using firearms while committing a felony.

Lamberth deferred formally imposing the sentences while hearing arguments from both sides on the sentencing. Defense lawyers argued for mercy but prosecutors said the men have never shown remorse or accepted responsibility.

All four were convicted in October for their involvement in the killings that caused an international uproar in Nisoor Square, a crowded traffic circle in downtown Baghdad. The legal fight over the killings has spanned years.

Prosecutors have described the shooting as an unprovoked ambush of civilians, though defense lawyers countered that the men were targeted with gunfire and Iraqi police, and shot back in self-defense.

The defense argued for mercy Monday by saying that decades-long sentences would be unconstitutionally harsh punishments for men who operated in a stressful, war-torn environment, and who have proud military careers and close family ties.

The firearms convictions alone carry mandatory minimum sentences of 30 years in prison. The government sought sentences far beyond that, partly because it said the men have never shown remorse or accepted responsibility.

The sentencing is unlikely to bring an end to the legal wrangling, which began even before the guards were first charged in 2008. A judge later dismissed the case before trial, but a federal appeals court revived it and the guards were indicted again in October 2013.

Even before the trial began, defense lawyers had identified multiple issues as likely forming the basis of an appeal, including whether there was proper legal jurisdiction to charge them in the first place.

The statute under which they were charged, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, covers the overseas crimes of Defense Department civilian employees, military contractors and others who are supporting the American war mission. But defense lawyers note that the Blackwater defendants worked as State Department contractors and were in Iraq to provide diplomatic, not military, services.

The legal fighting continued in the days leading up to sentencing, too, with defense lawyers seeking Friday to postpone the hearing after receiving new information — a victim impact statement from a trial witness — that they said was favorable to the defense. But Lamberth denied the request, saying there was no need to delay the sentencing.
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