After an unusually long 28 days of deliberation, a federal jury in Washington, D.C., convicted four ex-Blackwater guards in connection with a massacre of Iraqi civilians in a public square in Baghdad in 2007, Politico reports. The slew of guilty verdicts is a huge victory for the Justice Department, which faced roadblocks in bringing the case to trial, including a botched early investigation by the State Department and the challenges of pursuing a case in the U.S. over events that took place more than 6,000 miles away.
The verdicts avert the potentially ugly public reaction in Iraq if the defendants had been acquitted. Anger over failure to win convictions could have complicated President Obama's efforts to boost Iraq's shaky central government in the fight against militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. One guard convicted yesterday, Nicholas Slatten, faces a mandatory life sentence on a first-degree murder charge. The three others, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, were convicted on other charges and face mandatory sentences of at least 30 years in prison for using automatic weapons in a crime of violence. U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said, “These Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns, and grenade launchers on innocent men, women, and children.”