Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blackwater Guards lightly sentenced for their atrocities in Iraq

Remember the Blackwater guards who massacred dozens of unarmed civilians in Iraq when the country was occupied by the USA? Its employees, most of them military veterans, protected American diplomats overseas and became enmeshed in the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine counter-terrorism operations. Its founder, Erik Prince, was a major donor to the Republican Party. No such company was more powerful than Blackwater, which won more than $1 billion in government contracts.

In Iraq, Blackwater was perceived as so powerful that its employees could kill anyone and get away with it, said Mohammed Hafedh Abdulrazzaq Kinani, whose 9-year-old son, Ali, was killed in Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. Four of the guards were put on trial for their murderous orgy against unarmed civilians that killed 14 Iraqis.

At trial, witnesses said that the shooting on September 16, 2007 began almost immediately after a convoy of armored Blackwater trucks rolled into the traffic circle. The contractors said they were shot at by Iraqi insurgents, and returned fire. But dozens of Iraqis and several of their former Blackwater colleagues testified that the shooting was unprovoked.

“There was a lady. She was screaming and weeping about her son and asking for help,” Sarhan Deab Abdul Moniem, an Iraqi traffic officer, testified. He showed jurors how she had cradled her dead son’s head on her shoulder. “I asked her to open up the door so I could help her. But she was paying attention only to her son.”

Other witnesses described a mother who pushed her daughter to safety, only to be killed herself. One man was pounded with bullets while he lay dying, unarmed, in the street. Another was shot while he had his hands up.

“I saw people huddled down in their cars, trying to shield their children with their bodies,” Adam Frost, a former Blackwater contractor, said in key testimony against his one-time colleagues.

“What happened on Sept. 16, 2007, was nothing short of an atrocity,” T. Patrick Martin, a federal prosecutor, said.

On Monday, April 13, a judge sentenced Nicholas A. Slatten, a former Army sniper who was convicted of murder for starting the melee with a precision shot through the head of a young man stopped at an intersection, to life in prison. Three other guards - Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Evan Liberty - who were convicted of voluntary manslaughter, received 30 years each. A fifth former guard, Jeremy P. Ridgeway of California, had pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and testified against his former colleagues. He has not been sentenced but testified that he hoped to avoid any prison time.

The ruling ended a long investigation into the Nisour Square shooting, a signature, gruesome moment in the Iraq war that highlighted America’s reliance on mercenaries, the so-called private contractors, to maintain security in combat zones. [Mercenary operation once was an illegal business. But now it has become a big business, approx. $100 billion. In Africa and the Middle East, most governments do not publicize the mercenary companies they hire, and private businesses are similarly tight-lipped. The United States Central Command, which is in charge of military forces in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, reported in January that 54,700 private contractors worked for the Defense Department in its areas of responsibility. In Afghanistan alone, where about 9,800 American troops are deployed, the Pentagon is paying for almost 40,000 private contractors, more than a third of whom are American, according to the Centcom report. Only a few hundred, though, are involved directly in security, with others doing everything from serving food to conducting intelligence work.]

The defendants all maintain their innocence and have vowed to appeal, which will likely drag out an already protracted case. The long prosecution was derailed several times by the Justice Department’s mistakes, and dismissed once over accusations of prosecutorial misconduct. Last year, prosecutors missed a deadline for statute of limitations for certain charges against Slatten.

Prince, an auto-parts heir and former Navy SEAL who netted more than $1 billion in contracts for Blackwater, has not faced any official accountability for the incident. “Erik Prince, he was in charge,” Kinani said. “And he should be in that courtroom yesterday.”

So, what do you think about the court verdict against Blackwater guards who deliberately murdered unarmed civilians, which included children and women? What about other guards who had committed equally gruesome murders of Iraqi civilians? As published reports have shown many guards and contractors of the Blackwater organization, which already had gone through at least two name changes, had committed unprovoked murders and need to be tried for their atrocities in Iraq. Whether the victims of such crimes would ever see justice remains an open question. [In response to the controversies surrounding Blackwater, Eric Prince first renamed the company Xe Services and then sold it in 2010. Now known as Academi, it has since been resold and merged, along with one of its main competitors, Triple Canopy, into the Constellis Group. The consolidated company is still a major player in security contracting for the American government and other customers. It has received more than $300 million in Pentagon funding for counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan. Blackwater’s sprawling facility in Moyock, N.C., is now one of Academi’s major assets as a training center. In the meantime, Prince has moved on with a new venture called Frontier Services Group, reportedly pitching its services to Nigeria and other governments and companies across Africa.]

I am no legal expert, but as a conscientious human being of this planet, I fail to find consistency with court verdicts around the globe. The courts here in the USA seem to be gung ho when it comes to handing out severely harsh sentences against anyone suspected of or being involved with terrorism, whether the person had done any crime or not. For instance, just the intent to join an alleged terrorist group (like the ISIS or more correctly, the DAES) or the claims of government (say, FBI) informants against them is often deemed sufficient to be sentenced for life imprisonment. And then we have cases like the Blackwater where the accused are known murderers who committed heinous crimes, and yet are spared life. 'Three of the indicted criminals will probably be out in less than 12 years.

Where is justice? Which system is fair where unbiased justice prevails?  When our country - the so-called most progressive nation on earth with seemingly the best judicial system in the world - fails to be consistent and fair in handing out sentences such verdicts don't portray a good image of our court system. So, when we cry out foul against the judicial systems in other countries those countries only see hypocrisy and arrogance, and nothing substantial.

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