Skip to main content

The impact of Blackwater's 2007 shooting in Nisour Square

The mass shooting in Nisour Square in Baghdad was a turning point for the U.S.-based security company Blackwater Worldwide and for the U.S. intervention in post-war Iraq as a whole. Iraq subsequently denied Blackwater a license to operate in the country, and diplomacy was strained again when the US dropped charges against the responsible men.

This article was originally posted to Helium Network on Nov. 23, 2010.

Blackwater trained private security contractors, thousands of whom worked for hire in post-war Iraq as bodyguards and in other paramilitary roles. While these guards generally had prior military experience, they were civilians, were not subject to military rules, and were immune from criminal prosecution while working in Iraq.

Bloomberg News reported that Blackwater contractors "were linked to 195 shooting incidents from 2005 through 2008, with them firing the first shots more than 80 percent of the time, according to a 2008 report prepared by the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee." Pres. George W. Bush's lengthy memoir of his eight-year presidency published in 2010 made no mention of the security company.

The most notorious incident occurred on Sept. 16, 2007, when Blackwater guards opened fire at a busy intersection in Baghdad outside the fortified Green Zone, killing 17 civilians, including women and children, and wounding many others. The guards claimed that they were in the square to respond to a bomb threat and that they fired in self-defense. However, an Iraqi investigation found that the shooting was unprovoked and referred to the killings as "murder." Iraqis were outraged by the incident, and diplomatic relations with the United States were strained.

The US had invaded Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein and had transferred sovereignty back to a newly formed government in 2004. Despite their formal sovereignty, Iraq was unable to prosecute the Blackwater employees, who had immunity under U.S. law.

In October 2007, a month after the shooting in Nisour Square, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the MEJA Expansion and Enforcement Act (H.R. 2740) which would have made U.S. security contractors in Iraq subject to U.S. criminal law; however, the Senate never voted on it. Instead, the "Status of Forces Agreement" between the two countries in December 2008 made the contractors subject to Iraqi criminal law.

Former Blackwater guards Donald Ball, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nick Slatten, and Paul Slough surrendered to the FBI in December 2008, each facing 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter, and one count of using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime. These men, all military veterans in their 20s, pled not guilty. A sixth guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, had already pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter, attempt to commit murder and aiding and abetting, and had agreed to testify against the other five. The company itself faced no charges. It was the Dept. of Justice's first prosecution of personnel hired by the Dept. of Defense, which is permitted under a 2004 amendment to the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act.

In January 2009, Iraq denied Blackwater Worldwide a license to operate in the country, citing the shooting in Nisour Square. As the incident had damaged Blackwater's reputation, the company re-branded itself Xe (pronounced "zee") the next month. That summer, Blackwater ceased providing services in Baghdad and surrounding areas.

A federal judge dismissed the manslaughter charges against the five guards in December 2009. In a 90-page ruling, he said that federal prosecutors had violated the men's Fifth Amendment rights by coercing them to make statements under the threat of the loss of their jobs. Iraq was scandalized by the dismissal of the charges. On Jan. 1, 2010, Iraq announced it would sue the five guards. Additionally, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told CNN on Jan. 3 that the government wanted to expel from the country anyone who had ever worked for Blackwater and did not intend to inform or consult the U.S. Embassy on this decision.  Vice President Joe Biden, in his role as overseer of Iraq policy, quickly promised Iraqi leaders that the US would appeal the court's decision in the Nisour Square case.

In June 2010, Blackwater's billionaire founder Erik Prince was said to be seeking a buyer for the company. The company was purchased later that year and was rebranded "Academi". In June 2014, it merged with Triple Canopy; the resulting company is called

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Castration at the Battle of Adwa (1896)

On March 1, 1896, the Battle of Adwa "cast doubt upon an unshakable certainty of the age – that sooner or later Africans would fall under the rule of Europeans." In this battle, Ethiopians beat back the invading Italians and forced them to retreat permanently. It was not until 1922 that Benito Mussolini would again initiate designs against Ethiopia; despite Ethiopia's defeat in 1936, the nation ultimately retained its independence. "Adwa opened a breach that would lead, in the aftermath of world war fifty years later, to the rollback of European rule in Africa. It was," Raymond Jonas wrote, "an event that determined the color of Africa." (p. 1) It was also significant because it upheld the power of Ethiopia's Christian monarchy that controlled an ethnically diverse nation (p. 333), a nation in which, in the late 19th century, the Christian Emperor Yohannes had tried to force Muslims to convert to Christianity. (p. 36)The Victorian English spelling…

Review of Cliff Sims' 'Team of Vipers' (2019)

After he resigned his position, Cliff Sims spent two months in Fall 2018 writing Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House. Many stories are told, some already well known to the public, some not. One buys this book, most likely, to gape at the colossal flameout spectacle that is Donald Trump, as with most things with Trump's name. Sims exposes the thoughtlessness, the chaos, the lack of empathy among his fellow insiders in the campaign and later in the White House, but he does not at all acknowledge the real consequences for ordinary Americans — there might as well be no world outside the Trump insider bubble, for all this narrative concerns itself with — and therefore falls far short of fully grappling with the ethical implications of his complicity.Previously, Sims was a journalist. "I had written tough stories, including some that helped take down a once-popular Republican governor in my home state," he says. "I had done my best to be acc…

It is not journalists' job to vet political nominees, but...?

The position of U.S. national intelligence director is open, following the resignation of Daniel Coats. John Ratcliffe withdrew his name from consideration on August 2, 2019, only five days after Trump nominated him. An article in The Guardian about why Trump picked Ratcliffe:Ratcliffe is a frequent Trump defender who fiercely questioned the former special counsel Robert Mueller during his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee hearing last week.Even as Mueller laid bare concerns that Russia was working to interfere with US elections again, Ratcliffe remained focused on the possibility that US intelligence agencies had overly relied on unverified opposition research in investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.Unfortunately for Ratcliffe, he had embellished his credentials. According to Vox: He had "frequently boasted about overseeing the arrest of 300 illegal immigrants in one day at a poultry plant in 2008," but the operation was much smaller and his role w…