(TFC)— The American government has determined a retrial will be held for a former Blackwater security contractor involved in the 2007 Nisour Square Massacre. This particular individual, Nicholas Slatten, was sentenced to life in prison following lengthy trials under the Obama Administration.
The 33-year-old former Blackwater contractor was accused by Iraqi eyewitnesses and teammates of firing the first shots. Using his weapon from inside an armored vehicle, Slatten allegedly triggered the massive salvo.
Blackwater, renamed twice and sold, has categorically claimed the convoy was ambushed. Nisour Square was a tight residential area inside the American-established Green Zone. Dozens of Iraqis were out heading to markets and other daily tasks.
Iraqi eyewitnesses and teammates who later testified against Blackwater claimed the convoy wasn’t ambushed. What happened in Nisour Square in 2007 would become one of the most infamous massacres during the invasion. Fourteen Iraqis died that day, with many others wounded by the convoys heavy machine guns and rifles.
Back in August, a federal court attempted to clear three of the guards, including Slatten. The former contractor was the only one of the squad–Raven 23–to get a life sentence. It’s a twist on twists stemming from technicalities in the originally sentencing of the group.
Some feel Slatten should’ve had the same trial as his teammates, who all received 30-year sentences. There were also technicalities in the charges themselves which legal supporters felt were “grossly disproportionate”. At that time, it was known that Slatten’s first-degree murder charges were thrown out, but not that he’d get a retrial. The fact that the guards were considered civilian contractors, not soldiers, also present legal nuances.
The court is calling 15 witnesses back from Iraq, as well as 35 other witnesses. When the possibility of a retrial first appeared months ago, one of the biggest challenges discussed was witnesses. In the years since the first days of the case, many former witnesses may have migrated or died. Assembling 15 is an impressive task in and of itself.
It’s currently unknown if the stand will also call Jeremy P. Ridgeway, another member of Raven 23. After taking a plea deal, Ridgeway testified against his teammates and offered the court a nail in the coffin. With charges being reconsidered and retrials on the way, the court is debating releasing Slatten and the others. This raises concerns over Ridgeway’s safety, and whether he’ll again confront Raven 23 in court.
December 14th will mark the first day of Slatten’s retrial, a legal event with sweeping implications. Why attempt to free the contractors now under the Trump Administration? It’s a coincidence that’s difficult to ignore. Especially considering Donald Trump’s relationship with Blackwater Worldwide founder Erik Prince, and his sister Education Secretary Betsy Devos.
If the group is cleared, then a precedent could be set for conduct throughout the new war on terror. Clandestine forces like Navy SEALs, under Trump, have already committed very questionable killings in Yemen and elsewhere. Contractors are even more unaccountable than their official military colleagues. If one of the worst massacres of Bush’s invasion is cleared, then what could go excused in the remaining three years of Trump’s first term?