Four contractors who were serving prison time because of their role in the Nisour Square “Massacre” in Baghdad in 2007 are now free men.
Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard, and Nicholas Slatten were all serving time in prison after being sentenced for their role in the massacre. The first three were convicted of manslaughter and some lesser charges. Slatten, who allegedly fired the first shot, was convicted of murder. These lame duck pardons are the latest in a series of Trump-issued military contractor pardons. Examples include a contractor who killed an accused Afgan bomb maker and a contractor who ordered his men to open fire on alleged Taliban fighters.
Former U.S. Army Colonel David Boslego said the incident undoubtedly had “a negative effect on our mission” and “made our relationship with the Iraqis in general more strained.”
The Attack on Raven 23
Almost everyone agrees that Blackwater contractors overreacted to a perceived threat. Maybe this overreaction was so egregious that the contractors should have been individually and harshly punished. Then again, maybe not. Ultimately, the Nisour Square shooting is the classic example of the horrible and controversial things that happen in the fog of war.
On September 16, 2007, a car bomb exploded near a U.S.-Iraqi meeting site. Raven 23, under the command of Blackwater contractor Jimmy Watson, was ordered to secure an evacuation route through Nisour Square for the VIPs and their escorts.
As Raven 23 assumed defensive positions, Watson received an intelligence report that a white Kia was also carrying a car bomb. Most of the remaining facts are unclear, and many pundits largely ignored many of them.
A vehicle matching that description entered the Square a short time later. According to an Iraqi government report, the vehicle was travelling slowly on the wrong side of the road and ignored a police officer’s stop order. Furthermore, according to Blackwater contractors, the Kia also ignored hand signals, verbal pleas, and warning shots.
So, Blackwater contractors opened fire on the suspicious Kia, killing the driver and the driver’s mother almost immediately. However, the Kia continued moving forward, so Blackwater contractors continued shooting. During the firefight, a grenade destroyed the Kia, so any physical evidence it contained was lost.
Adding to the confusion, once again according to the aforementioned Iraqi report, the contractors used stun grenades at this point to clear a path for the VIPs and escorts. Iraqi police officers mistook the stun grenades for fragmentation grenades. They opened fire, and the contractors returned fire.
When it was over, 14 people were dead and twenty more were injured. All the casualties were Iraqis. But due to the lack of physical evidence, it is not known whether or not the people in the car were insurgents.
The U.S. State Department suspended Blackwater’s contractor license the next day, since “innocent life was lost.” A subsequent FBI investigation concluded that 14 of the 17 Iraqis were shot without cause.
Back home, the Nisour Square shooting prompted a long, convoluted legal fight. Several guards were convicted on serious charges, but a federal judge threw out those convictions. Eventually, prosecutors secured convictions and prison time for four former contractors, mostly on technical weapons violations. Now, it appears that President Donald Trump has closed the book on this legal saga, for better or worse.
Contractors in Iraq
Blackwater, which became Xe and later Acedemi, was by no means the only private military contractor firm in Iraq. In fact, at some points during the fighting, the number of private military contractors in Iraq eclipsed the number of regular servicemembers.
In highly-controversial conflicts like the Iraq War, contractors allow the Pentagon to downplay its involvement. Contractors are usually not included in official casualty reports. Contractors also allow foreign politicians to downplay U.S. involvement. So, as far as politicians are concerned, everyone wins when the government employs private military contractors.
The duties these contractors perform are almost as numerous as the number of companies which provide them. Many contractors provide non-combat support services as cooks, mechanics, drone operators, trainers, and so on. Other contractors, like the aforementioned Raven 23 convoy, provide combat support. In addition to escort services, private military contractors often man checkpoints and serve in other such capacities.
The one thing contractors do not do is participate in offensive operations. Such actions violate U.S. law. This important prohibition also separates American military contractors from mercenaries like Russia’s Wagner Group. Mercenaries operate under no such constraints.
In all these service capacities, private military contractors risk serious injury. There are basically two kinds of injuries in this context:
- Trauma Injuries: Combat and non-combat support contractors risk injury from militant attacks. There is no such thing as a secure “rear area” in the Global War on Terror. Everyone is equally at risk. Common trauma injuries among construction and other civilian private contractors include falls and motor vehicle collisions.
- Occupational Diseases: Iraq was a very dangerous place in 2007, and not only because of combat operations. Many U.S. installations used burn pit waste disposal units. The toxic smoke these pits released have been linked to a number of serious and fatal conditions. Construction contractors often suffer from repetitive stress disorder, due to repeated bending and stooping, hearing loss, exposure to toxic substances, and other such occupational diseases.
Occupational diseases and trauma injuries, especially when they happen miles from home in relatively lawless areas, usually trigger hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, medevac expenses, and other costs.
Injury Compensation Available
Even if the occupational disease or trauma injury is not directly related to the contractor’s deployment, injury compensation is usually available under the Defense Base Act.
Assume Commander Cody is enjoying some down time in an Iraqi market when an IED explodes next to a date stand. There is a nexus (indirect relationship) between the IED explosion and Commander Cody’s deployment. Cody was only at that market because he was a private military contractor in Iraq.
Furthermore, victims must show that their injuries occurred in war zones. Almost every foreign country is a “war zone” in this context. That is because almost every foreign country has at least one American military installation. That installation could be one person, such as a military consultant in an embassy.
This compensation usually includes medical bill payment and lost wage replacement. Injured victims do not need to prove fault or negligence to receive this compensation.
For more information about available DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.