Originally published on October 24, 2014, at NationofChange.org
Four former Blackwater USA contractors have been convicted of murdering 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians and wounding 18 others in the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad. The defendants falsely claimed they had been under attack when the shooting occurred, but surviving witnesses and fellow Blackwater operatives testified against them in federal court. After lying under oath to Congress, Blackwater’s founder and former CEO Erik Prince later fled to Abu Dhabi to elude Justice Department investigations.
On September 16, 2007, a Blackwater convoy codenamed Raven 23 disobeyed orders from US Embassy officials to remain in the Green Zone and instead established a blockade at Nisour Square. While driving his mother to an appointment, Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y stopped his white Kia sedan at the checkpoint and waited for the Blackwater mercenaries to let them pass. Hiding inside the convoy’s command vehicle, Nicholas Slatten aimed his SR-25 sniper rifle through a gun portal and murdered Ahmed.
As Ahmed’s head exploded, his car slipped into neutral and slowly began to approach the Blackwater convoy. While attempting to stop the car, Iraqi police officer Ali Khalaf Salman raised his left arm signaling the shooters to stop firing. Inside the sedan, Ahmed’s mother, Mahassin Mohssen Kadhum Al-Khazali, clutched his bleeding head screaming, “My son! My son! Help me, help me!”
A turret gunner, Jeremy Ridgeway, opened fire killing Ahmed’s mother. Another Blackwater shooter launched an M-203 grenade that caused the sedan to erupt into flames. Unleashing sniper fire, machine guns, and grenade launchers, the Blackwater convoy murdered ten unarmed men, two women, and two boys, ages 9 and 11. At least 18 victims were wounded. The only damage inflicted upon the convoy’s command vehicle came from shrapnel by an American grenade fired at close range by a Blackwater operative.
According to witnesses, Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard, and Jeremy Ridgeway attempted to kill everyone in Nisour Square. Another turret gunner, Matthew Murphy, waved his arms warning nearby Iraqis to get down. After ignoring repeated orders to cease firing, the massacre finally ended after Blackwater operatives turned their guns on each other. Instead of killing their own teammates, the shooters eventually decided to stop firing. As the convoy exited the square, some of the shooters continued indiscriminately firing their machine guns at civilian vehicles.
“At this point, my teammate’s been firing wildly, and I don’t want these kids to get shot,” recalled Matthew Murphy. “And I don’t want anybody else to get shot.”
Murphy later testified, “I’ve seen people completely unarmed, people doing nothing wrong, get shot.” He called the Nisour Square massacre “the most horrible, botched thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
In December 2008, Ridgeway pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter. As Ridgeway began cooperating with prosecutors, Judge Ricardo Urbina of Federal District Court in Washington threw out the indictments against Slatten, Liberty, Slough, Heard, and Donald Ball. An appeals court reversed his ruling in 2011, allowing prosecutors to obtain indictments against them. The prosecution chose not to indict Ball again.
Earlier this week, Slatten was found guilty of first-degree murder. Slough was convicted on 13 counts of voluntary manslaughter, 17 counts of attempted manslaughter, and one firearms offense. Liberty was found guilty of eight counts of voluntary manslaughter, 12 counts of attempted manslaughter, and one firearms offense. Heard was convicted on six counts of voluntary manslaughter, 11 counts of attempted manslaughter, and one firearms offense.
One month before the Nisour Square massacre, State Department investigators discovered Blackwater manipulated its personnel records in order to overbill the State Department and falsified data on the government contract. On August 21, 2007, investigators Jean Richter and Donald Thomas met with Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, Daniel Carroll, to discuss the investigation. Carroll told Richter “that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington.
Although Thomas witnessed the Blackwater manager threatening Richter and corroborated his version of events, embassy officials ordered Richter and Thomas to leave Iraq immediately.
Founded in 1997 by former CEO Erik Prince, Blackwater only brought in roughly $200,000 per year before the events of 9/11. Former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney opened the floodgates awarding private mercenary armies with inflated government contracts and allowing them to operate with impunity. Although Barack Obama vowed on the campaign trail to curb the utilization of private contractors, he has broken his word by continuing to provide defense contracts to private mercenary armies.
On the evening of December 24, 2006, Blackwater operative Andrew Moonen murdered Raheem Khalif, a security guard to Iraqi Vice President Abil Abd-al-Mahdi. When confronted by the security guard, Moonen pulled out his Glock 9mm pistol and shot him to death. After fleeing the scene, Moonen was fired for possessing a firearm while drunk and secretly flown back to the U.S. before he could be charged with the murder.
Two weeks after the Nisour Square massacre, Erik Prince testified before the House Oversight Committee. Under oath, Prince lied to U.S. Representatives when asserting that Blackwater never kills innocent civilians. Video leaked by Blackwater operatives reveals convoys running over pedestrians, shooting civilians, and running cars off the road. Prince went on to accuse the U.S. Army of killing the unarmed Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square.
Two days before leaving office, Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq L. Paul Bremer signed Order 17 granting private security contractors protection from prosecution in Iraq. Bremer was also a Blackwater client who repaid his private bodyguards with blanket immunity for their crimes.
In an attempt to rebrand his image, Erik Prince renamed his company Xe Services in February 2009. Six months later, two former employees submitted sworn statements to the federal court in Virginia implicating Prince in the murders of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. They also accused him of smuggling unlawful weapons, using illegal ammunition designed to explode after penetrating within the human body, committing fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, terminating mental health professionals who were not willing to endorse deployments of unfit men, and destroying incriminating evidence to intentionally deceive the State Department and other federal agencies.
With five former top Blackwater executives indicted on federal weapons, conspiracy, and obstruction charges, Erik Prince fled to Abu Dhabi in 2010. Although he had won multiple contracts with the Defense Department, the CIA, and the State Department, Prince abandoned the U.S. when confronted with a series of civil lawsuits, criminal charges, and Congressional investigations. After selling his company, Prince became executive director and chairman of Frontier Services Group, a self-proclaimed private equity firm that focuses on African mining and energy development.
Erik Prince currently does not face any criminal charges.