Iraqi Survivors of Blackwater Massacre Finally get their Day in Court
Victims of one of the most horrific incidents during the Iraq war are finally getting to tell their story in a U.S. courtroom.
Seven years ago, private security guards employed by Blackwater Worldwide opened fire in the middle of a busy Baghdad intersection, killing 17 Iraqis. The Americans claimed they were fired upon first, but the Iraqi government rejected this assertion and sought to try the Americans.
Efforts to prosecute the Blackwater guards in Iraq were stymied by the George W. Bush administration, while attempts to bring justice to the victims here in the U.S. were delayed and nearly halted altogether.
In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted five of the former Blackwater guards involved in the incident, and made a plea deal with the sixth. Charges against another of the guards were subsequently dropped due to lack of evidence. The four remaining guards on trial are Dustin L. Heard, Evan S. Liberty, Nicholas A. Slatten and Paul A. Slough.
Now, with the resurrection of criminal charges, the U.S. government under President Barack Obama decided to allocate “significant resources” to fly more than four dozen Iraqis to the U.S. so they could testify in the case. The Justice Department, which coordinated the “logistical challenge” of the transport with the State Department and U.S. immigration officials, told The New York Times that the number of foreign witnesses represents the largest ever in a U.S. criminal trial.
Accounts presented in court this week included that of Mohammed Hafedh Abdulrazzaq Kinani, who cried uncontrollably while describing the death of his 9-year-old son, who was shot in the head as he rode with him in the family car. It was so emotional that the judge, Royce Lamberth, temporarily excused the jury. The next day, one of the jurors was excused from service after she told the judge that she was so affected by Kinani’s testimony that she could not sleep.
Another witness was Sarhan Deab Abdul Moniem, a traffic officer on duty in September 2007 when the Blackwater team started shooting in Nisour Square.
Moniem said that at one point during the chaos, he tried to help a victim inside a white Kia sedan. “There was a lady. She was screaming and weeping about her son and asking for help,” Moniem told jurors, adding the woman was holding her dead son’s head. “I asked her to open up the door so I could help her. But she was paying attention only to her son.”
As Moniem’s testimony extended to a third day, prosecutor T. Patrick Martin apologized for keeping him so long.
“All my time is to you,” responded Moniem. “As long as we are trying to arrive at what is right and helpful to people, I am here and at your service.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman
To Learn More:
In a U.S. Court, Iraqis Accuse Blackwater of Killings in 2007 (by Matt Apuzzo, New York Times)
Blackwater Guards Finally to be Tried for Killing 14 Iraqi Civilians (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Did Bush Justice Dept. Purposely Sabotage Blackwater Massacre Case? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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