A US federal appeals court has thrown out the first-degree murder conviction of a former Blackwater security contractor who was sentenced to life in prison for the killings of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007.
The court on Friday also overturned three other sentences in connection with the infamous incident that has come to be known as the “My Lai massacre of Iraq.”
Meanwhile former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince is publicly calling for privatizing the Afghanistan war, suggesting his private military force could turn around America’s longest running war.
The Guardian reports: In a split opinion issued on Friday, the three-judge panel of the US court of appeals for the DC circuit ruled that a court erred in 2014 by not allowing Nicholas Slatten to be tried separately from his co-defendants, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard.
Slatten, a 33-year-old contractor from Tennessee who was the sniper on a team protecting state department officials, is serving a life sentence. During his trial, prosecutors said he saw killing Iraqis as “payback for 9/11”. No connection between Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime and the 9/11 attacks has been proven.
The Washington appeals panel also ordered new sentences for Slough, Liberty and Heard, who were found guilty of 13 charges of voluntary manslaughter and 17 charges of attempted manslaughter and sentenced to 30 years each.
The judges determined those sentences violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment because prosecutors charged them with using military firearms while committing another felony. That statute, typically employed against gang members or bank robbers, had never been used against overseas security contractors working for the US government.
The lawyers for the defendants could not immediately be reached for comment.
Fourteen people died and at least 17 were wounded in the incident in Nisour Square in Baghdad, which strained international relations and drew scrutiny of the role of American contractors in the Iraq war.
The government described the killings as a one-sided ambush of unarmed civilians, while the defense said the guards had opened fire only after a white Kia sedan seen as a potential car bomb began moving quickly toward their convoy. After the shooting stopped, no evidence of a bomb was found.
The former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince proposes implementing a US viceroy in Afghanistan, similar to 19th century colonial times, or more recently when Paul Bremer, the head of the so-called Coalition Provisional Authority ruled Iraq, just long enough for the impregnation of ISIS into the country following the 2003 invasion.
CNN’s Erin Burnett interviewed Prince on Monday night:
“There’s a lot of people that say just pull out of Afghanistan. I disagree with that because I think the Taliban or ISIS would raise their battle flag over the US Embassy in six months or a year,” Prince said in an interview that aired on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” on Monday night. “That’s bad. But continuing the same — I would say insanity — that we’ve been doing for the last 16 years, that has to change.”
Instead, the former Navy SEAL and founder of the controversial defense contracting firm, now named Academi, has proposed implementing a US viceroy in Afghanistan and increasing the number of government contractors on the ground.
“They’d be military employees of the Afghan government,” Prince explained. “Imagine them as a skeletal structure that provides leadership, intelligence, medical, communications and logistics support to all those Afghan battalions so it works reliably.”
Cal Perry, NBC News: “A private air force and a bombing app! From the people who brought you Blackwater; an even more disturbing idea.”
Common Dreams reports: As President Donald Trump vents his frustration with the United States’ “losing” strategy in Afghanistan, the “notorious mercenary” and Blackwater founder Erik Prince has seized the moment to offer his favored alternative: privatize the war.
According to a report by Katrina Manson of the Financial Times on Monday, Prince has drafted a proposal—dated August 2017—that would hand the longest war in American history over to a private “band of experienced sergeants,” who would fight alongside U.S.-trained Afghan forces.
Prince, Manson writes, “proposes a two-year plan for fewer than 5,000 global guns for hire and under 100 aircraft, bringing the total cost of the U.S. effort to turn round a failing war to less than $10 billion a year.”
Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, argues that Trump should “restructure” the war—a process he suggests would resemble “bankruptcy reorganization”—by “aligning U.S. efforts under a presidential envoy,” which in a previous op-ed he called a “viceroy.“
Following the publication of his most recent piece, Prince appeared on CNN and noted that Steven Bannon, “some folks” at the National Security Council, and “quite a few” members of Congress have been receptive to his plan to privatize the war. The Financial Times further noted that “Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo visited Afghanistan last week to assess U.S. strategy and in part to consider how Prince’s proposal might fit into it.”
Critics have warned that while Prince’s plan may save money, it will potentially open the door to deadly abuses by unaccountable forces, like those seen in Iraq.
“If contractors are replacing soldiers and they are on the frontline they could kill or be killed, there could be kidnaps or insider attacks—what happens if they commit a crime or bodies have to be sent back; there would be a large number of legal complications,” one official told the Financial Times.
Ronald Neumann, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, echoed these concerns in an interview with the Navy Times.
“There’s a bad record of contractors and human rights abuses,” Neumann said. “There’s no legal structure to govern this.”
Others have offered a more scathing assessment of Prince’s proposals, likening them to “literal colonialism” and arguing that the plan is primarily driven by his desire to profit from the 16-year conflict.
As Common Dreams reported last week, Trump recently fumed in a meeting with generals and high-ranking national security officials that the U.S. is not “winning” the war. He also complained that businesses are not working quickly enough to secure a share of Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which has been valued at around $1 trillion.
Prince appears eager to capitalize on the strategic conflict within the administration, and his recent moves indicate that he sees a significant business opportunity in Afghanistan.
Last week, the Military Times reported that Prince submitted a “business proposal” to the Afghan government, which included a plan to supplement the country’s military capacities with a “private air force.”
“The aircraft offered in the proposal includes fixed-wing planes, attack helicopters, and drones capable of providing close-air support to maneuvering ground forces,” the Military Times reported after viewing a draft of the plan.
Prince’s plan also reportedly includes the use of “an iPhone application called Safe Strike,” which is presented as a “tool for air tactical controllers to safely and accurately call in precision airstrikes or indirect fire.”
A private air force and bombing app! From the people who brought you blackwater; an even more disturbing idea. https://t.co/iotWnoKiYA
— Cal Perry (@CalNBC) August 3, 2017
Related: Blackwater Mercenaries Pay For Sins In Yemen