Judge Refuses to Lighten Mandatory Minimums for Former Blackwater Guards

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth refused to deviate from the mandatory minimum sentences that four former Blackwater security guards face for the 2007 shooting that injured dozens and killed 14 Iraqi civilians.

Lamberth not only rejected the defense’s motion to impose lighter sentences on the men, he also rejected a motion by prosecutors to increase the penalties.

To former guard N. Slatten, this means he will likely be sentenced to life in prison for his first-degree murder conviction, and the other men – P. Slough, E. Liberty, and D. Heard likely face 30-year terms for multiple counts, including using a firearm while committing a felony, attempted manslaughter, and manslaughter.

Judge Lamberth decided to defer imposing the sentences until after hearing arguments from both sides about the sentencing. On one side, defense attorneys argued for mercy while prosecutors argued that the former security guards had never accepted responsibility or shown remorse.

Last October, the four men were convicted for involvement in a shooting that took place in Nisoor Square, a traffic circle in Baghdad that is heavily crowded with people. The incident caused an international uproar, resulting in a legal battle which has lasted for years.

The prosecutors argue that the shooting was unprovoked, and was an ambush against civilians. In contrast, the defense lawyers say that the men were targeted with gunfire, and had to shoot back in self-defense.

The defense attorneys argued that imposing decades-long sentences would be unconstitutionally harsh for the men who had close family ties, proud military careers, and who were operating in a tough, war-torn environment.

Just the firearms convictions carry mandatory minimum sentences of 30 years. However, the government sought even harsher sentences, partly because it claims that the men have never been remorseful or taken responsibility.

The guards were initially charged in 2008, but a judge dismissed the case before it made it to trial. It was revived again by a federal appeals court, and the former guards were once again indicted in October of 2013. The legal battle is expected to continue.

The men were charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which addresses the overseas crimes of Defense Department civilian employees, military contractors and other parties supporting America’s war mission.

The defendants worked as State Department contractors and were in Iraq to provide diplomatic services as opposed to military services.

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