This past week, four guards – employed by a private military company formerly known as Blackwater – were convicted for the death of over 31 Iraqi civilians. In September of 2007, the guards opened fire on a busy traffic circle in an unprovoked attack that came to be known as Baghdad’s “Bloody Sunday.” A jury in Federal District Court ruled that the guards’ actions constituted a criminal act and not, as the defendants claimed, an unfortunate–yet necessary–response to an insurgent attack.
One of the guards, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, faces a life sentence, while the three other guards, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, guilty of manslaughter, face a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison. Over the course of the criminal trial, 30 Iraqis testified. This was the largest number of foreign witnesses ever to travel to the U.S. for a criminal trial.
The verdict brought relief and comfort for many Iraqis who see the conviction as a testament to American justice and rule of law. However, others who wanted death sentences or life imprisonments for all the guards, are left bitter and unsatisfied with the result of the trial.
The verdict marked a significant departure from how the U.S. has handled accountability for its controversial military actions in the past. Nevertheless, monitoring security contractors’ conduct and holding them accountable remains an issue, as the usage of private military contractors is still prevalent. This could have interesting implications for the future of private military contractors.