An American court has convicted four Blackwater operatives seven years after they murdered innocent Iraqis in a public square. Their leader, however, has walked away free.
After many years of delay, a Washington, DC federal judge finally on October 22 declared guilty four Blackwater Worldwide operatives for the slaughter of more than a dozen Iraqis in Baghdad in 2007. Nicholas Slatten was found guilty of first-degree murder; Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dusty Heard were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. A fifth guard, Jeremy Ridgeway pleaded guilty to lesser charges, informing against the other three guards in exchange for a lighter sentence. While the event is being depicted in the media as expiation for the incident, called “the Bloody Sunday,” the billionaire founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince, walks free.
The case against the Blackwater 4 was brought by the US government, and the trial lasted 11 weeks. The incident refers to a shoot-out by the four soldiers with machine guns and grenades at a busy intersection in Baghdad’s Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. Fourteen Iraqis were killed and 17 were wounded. One of the casualties was nine-year old Ali Kinani, who was shot in the head and killed. His father Mohammad described the horrifying scene in detail; Blackwater sent in armored cars to block off traffic in the busy intersection, and then opened fire. Ali, who was sitting next to the window, was shot in the head — when the noise and dust cleared and the father was alerted to his son’s condition, he ran to open the door and his son’s brains fell out on the road.
Bloody Sunday became a symbol of the evils of hiring contactors to outsource the dirty work of public terrorization and occupation. However, as the Abu Ghraib scandals made clear, the dividing line between the mentality of contractors and US soldiers was hazy at best. The US military made news for teaching a class of recruits on hating Muslims. The course was organized around a 30-page document titled “So What Can We Do? A Counter-Jihad Op Design Model.” This document made its intentions chillingly clear, “the United States has come to accept that radical ‘true Islam’ is both a political and military enemy to free people throughout the world… It is therefore time for the United States to make our true intentions clear. This barbaric ideology will no longer be tolerated. Islam must change or we will facilitate its self destruction.”
The Blackwater trial then, is not about the US repositioning itself for war in the Muslim world following the successful defeat of the “Arab Spring” — it is about “facilitating the self destruction of Islam,” as stated by the “So What Can We Do?” memo. Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater Worldwide in 1997 phoned in his reaction to the verdict. “Well, there was certainly a lot of politics surrounding this and the fact that the federal government spent tens of millions of dollars on this, now trying it seven years after the event, and 7,000 miles from where it happened,” he complained. “Certainly, it adds a lot of politics to it.”
Prince has been in the news of late, giving interviews and complaining about the treatment that Blackwater received at the hands of the Obama administration. He vented his thoughts about the ISIS threats, bemoaning that Blackwater was no longer in business to be able to go in undercover and take out the ISIS takfiris “by any means necessary.” “It’s a shame the [Obama] administration crushed my old business, because as a private organization, we could’ve solved the boots-on-the-ground issue, we could have had contracts from people that want to go there as contractors; you don’t have the argument of US active duty going back in there,” said Prince. “[Blackwater could have] gone in there and done it, and be done, and not have a long, protracted political mess that I predict will ensue.”
There are a number of reactions to the verdict, apart from Prince’s self-serving theatrics. The timing of this trial is purposeful — it is hardly an accident that it took this long for justice to be delivered to the victims of Iraq’s Bloody Sunday. On New Year’s Eve at the close of 2009, a federal judge threw out the case against the Blackwater guards, not because there was lack of evidence, but because it violated the constitutional rights of the guards. Blackwater came to symbolize the worst excesses of US wars in the Muslim world, and became a symbol for the anti-war movement to organize around. So, what is the significance of holding the trial now? As Peter Mansoor, who served as executive officer from 2007–2008 to David Petraeus, Commander of the military in Iraq said, “There could have been greater good done with swifter dispensation of justice.” He went on,“In the grand sweep of US-Iraqi relations, [this verdict] will not be a huge gain,” he predicted. “We’re now seven years removed. That’s a long time.”
The significance is that even as the US and Israel are stepping on the accelerator for their brutal, bloody war in the Levant, they are also trying at the same time to make it look as if this is an organic development in the Muslim world that they had no hand in engineering. The verdict is not about justice — indeed, Iraq is now visited with a fate even bleaker than the one ushered in with the aftermath of the US invasion in 2003. The very fact that the US is proliferating Iraq with Manchurian warriors who have been brainwashed with takfirism and equipped with guns and social media tools to wreak their savagery on other Muslims, underscores the fact that this is not about justice and accountability.
As reported by Beenish Ahmed in the October 23 article carried on the alternative news site, ThinkProgess, “the US had no qualms with giving hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to Blackwater in the wake of the 2007 debacle, and private security agencies have only rebranded and relaunched since then. In the wake of the 2007 shootings, Prince changed Blackwater’s name to ‘Xe Services’ in 2009. As Xe Services, the company received a contract worth around $100 million from the CIA. After Prince sold the company in 2010, investors changed the name to ACADEMI. As ACADEMI, the firm has continued to contract with the Department of Defense. And earlier this year, the firm merged with a competitor under the new name ‘Constellis Holdings’.”
Since money continued to flow to Blackwater and its spawn, understanding the current trial requires us to factor in the political context: the war against the Levant via ISIS and its regional handlers, aka Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf shaykdoms, and Turkey. The ISIS debacle has emerged as an impressive form of political theatre — in short, trial seems to be about the US façade of accountability, distancing itself from the actions of ISIS. “The government has a bizarre love-hate relationship with these companies,” Kate Brannen wrote for Foreign Policy. “On the one hand, they’re reliant on them to outsource political risk and on the other, eager to slap them in public whenever scandal happens.” With ISIS spreading waves of terror globally, Washington ensures that the government will not suffer attrition in the “pin the tail on the donkey” game that will get played out in the media. Instead, blame will be heaped on the contractors and regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, the Gulf shaykhdoms and Turkey.