Four former Blackwater guards have been found guilty of killing 14 people and injuring 17 more in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nisour Square. One guard, Nicholas Slatten, was found guilty of first degree murder, while the other three were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
The jury of four men and eight women deliberated for 27 days before reaching these convictions, and today's verdict addresses only some of the charges the four men face. They will continue to deliberate on the remaining charges.
The verdict comes after years of struggle to bring the case to trial, extending outrage over private military contractors and their ability to seemingly operate without any oversight. Blackwater became a symbol of that impunity on Sept. 16, 2007, when guards hired by the State Department opened fire in a crowded square in Baghdad, killing more than a dozen innocent people, including a small child.
This summer, The New York Times reported that just weeks before the massacre, the State Department abandoned an investigation into Blackwater's top manager threatened the government's chief investigator. According to the report, the manager said "he could kill" the investigator and "no one could or would do anytihng about it as we were in Iraq."
After journalist Jeremy Scahill published a book chronicling the rise of founder Erik Prince and the heavily miltarized private army and the killings in Nisour Square, Blackwater attempted to re-brand in order to shake its reputation as a mercenary firm. Prince left the company and moved to Abu Dhabi, and Blackwater renamed itself Xe Services, then Academi. It became a part of Constellis Holdings after a recent merger.
The company still has contracts with the Department of Defense.
The case against the Blackwater guards has also been marked by many missteps on the part of the U.S. government. Charges were first brought against six Blackwater contractors in 2008, but a judge overturned those indictments in 2009. When another judge reversed that decision in 2011, new indictments were brought. Prosecutors also saw charges against one contractor dropped due to a lack of evidence and missed a crucial deadline in an earlier case against Slatten, which led to its dismissal.
Defense attorneys for the four guards had argued that the men acted in self-defense and feared that a suicide bomber had targeted them. In 2004, four Blackwater contractors were killed in Fallujah, and insurgents hung the bodies of two of them from a bridge in the city. The families of the four contractors filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging that it failed to properly prepare or supply them for their mission. They reached a confidential settlement with the company in early 2012.