Seven long years ago a private security contractor slaughtered 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. 17 more were wounded. After a trial which began last June 11th, four Blackwater employees were found guilty in a U.S. court. One was convicted of murder; the other three received a conviction of manslaughter and weapons related charges.
After the incident occurred an international debate erupted regarding the use of private contractors in a war zone. Blackwater was hired to protect diplomats in the area.
More than 60 witnesses described the carnage as the Blackwater agents opened fire with automatic weapons. Their first target was a white car driven by an unarmed medical student. Then they fired indiscriminately around the square. Among those killed was a nine-year-old boy who was sitting in the backseat of his father’s car. When the shooting eventually ceased, the father looked back at his son. His head had literally been blown apart as he lay slumped on his side. The Blackwater agents claimed a belief that they were being ambushed.
The United States District Attorney offered grisly photographs of the massacre, and claimed that the agents were boasting about the event later in the evening. Attorneys for the Blackwater agents claimed that the government suppressed evidence. They said that a picture of eight shell casings from an AK-47 was not released to the defense until just recently. This is the weapon of choice for insurgents and Iraqi security forces.
The trial lasted for 10 weeks, and the jury deliberated 28 days before delivering a verdict. The convicted murderer faces life imprisonment; the three convicted of manslaughter will receive 30 year sentences.
The founder of Blackwater is Erik Prince. He staunchly defends his company which has been laden with charges of bribery and manslaughter, and was the subject of a grand jury investigation. He is the heir to a Michigan auto parts fortune, and was a Navy Seal.
He claims that much of the criticism of Blackwater is the result of being made scapegoats by the Bush Administration. Although that may be true, the company has been charged with many of its own human rights violations and illegal activities. It was also revealed in 2010 that he was working secretly for the CIA.
The U.S. Attorney for the District is District Ronald C. Machen Jr.; he indicated that this trial was proof that our justice system is credible even in times of war. He also said that he hoped this would give some peace to the family member of those affected by the manslaughter.
Ex-employees of Blackwater reported that in 2007 the company attempted to pay Iraqi officials one million dollars to ‘let the incident pass.’
The argument against hiring private contractors is sound. The allegiance is to the company, not to the United States and its citizens. They’re also extremely costly. It has been reported that between 2007 and 2012, the U.S. government paid Blackwater and other private contractors 160 billion dollars.
There have been efforts to create more oversight and accountability in regards to all private contractors working in war zones. As of September 2013, over 700 companies have agreed to the new rules and conditions.
By James Turnage