Four Blackwater guards rest their case in shootings of more than 30 Iraqis

Associated Press

Four Blackwater security guards on Monday rested their defense in the shootings that killed or wounded more than 30 Iraqis seven years ago in Baghdad.

Closing arguments will be later this week in the prosecution of the four guards. One, Nicholas Slatten, is charged with first-degree murder. Three others are charged with voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun charges — Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Evan Liberty.

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Slatten could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. The others face a mandatory minimum penalty of 30 years in prison if convicted of the gun charge and at least one other count.

The trial in Washington began more than two months ago and prosecutors concluded their case last week. Defense lawyers for the four who are charged called only a handful of witnesses. The last defense witness was a Blackwater intelligence analyst who detailed the daily dangers that the guards faced, including the infiltration of the Iraqi police force by militants and car bombs that exploded with regularity in the neighborhoods surrounding the Nisoor Square traffic circle where the shootings took place.

"It was a very active summer. I didn't see anything" that could be considered a safe area, said the analyst, Mia Laczek-Johnson.

The prosecution's case was based largely on the testimony of former Blackwater guards who were colleagues of the four men who were indicted. The defense team said the shootings were in self-defense.

The defense team for four security guards whose job was to protect State Department officials in a war zone says that the Sept. 16, 2007, shootings came in response to incoming shots fired by insurgents.

The Blackwater crew had gone to Nisoor Square to clear a path for a safe return to the Green Zone of a convoy carrying a State Department official.

At the trial, a federal jury witnessed the anguish of more than a dozen Iraqi citizens recounting the loss of their loved ones, a number of them crying for justice from the witness stand.

In all, more than half a dozen of the 19 men in the Blackwater unit called Raven 23 were summoned by prosecutors to testify against their former colleagues.

Former Blackwater guard Jeremy Krueger testified that he didn't fire his weapon because he didn't see any threats and did not see anyone firing at the Blackwater convoy. He said he saw Slough firing his weapon into the driver's side of a white car.