RNA - US District Judge Royce Lamberth reduced the 30-year sentences of former Blackwater guards Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard to only 15 years, 14 years and 12 years and seven months, respectively, AP reported on Friday.
Judge praised killer guards as 'fine young men'
In an earlier statement leading up to his Thursday’s ruling, Lamberth had expressed sympathy for the guards that indiscriminately gunned down the Iraqi civilians, insisting that it was clear to him that “these fine young men just panicked.”
The three had already received 30-year terms in a 2015 trial – a mandatory sentence for the commission of a felony while using a military firearm. A fourth Blackwater guard in the same trial, identified as Nicholas Slatten, was sentenced to life in prison for initiating the brutal carnage. All four expressed no remorse for the mass killings and justified it as “honorable service” to their country under stressful “fog of war.”
"I cannot say in all honesty to the court that I did anything wrong," Heard told the judge.
"I feel utterly betrayed by the same government I served honorably," Slough said.
The case stemmed from a chaotic 2007 incident -- during the US-led military invasion of Iraq -- when the men's Blackwater unit opened fire at a Baghdad traffic circle, killing 14 unarmed Iraqis and wounding 17. The men all essentially blamed the fog of war, claiming they mistakenly believed they were under attack.
According to Press TV, the carnage strained US-Iraqi relations and focused intense international scrutiny at the time on the extensive use of private military contractors in Iraq by the Americans and other Western forces.
The original convictions of the three guards were all overturned on appeal in 2017. The three-judge panel ruled that the 30-year mandatory sentence was unjust and excessive, saying the rule was intended for drug traffickers and gang members and had never before been applied to military contractors who had essentially be deputized by the US government.
'Unprovoked ambush of Iraqi civilians'
Prosecutors had described the shooting as an unprovoked ambush of Iraqi civilians and said the Blackwater guards haven't shown remorse or taken responsibility.
"These four men have refused to accept virtually any responsibility for their crimes and the blood they shed that day," said Assistant US Attorney Patrick Martin as quoted in an earlier AP report on the case.
Video monitors in the courtroom showed photos of the dead and wounded, as well as images of cars that were riddled with bullets or blown up with grenade launchers fired by the Blackwater guards.
The latest sentencing is unlikely to bring an end to the legal wrangling, which began even before the guards were first charged in 2008. A judge later dismissed the case before trial, but a federal appeals court revived it and the guards were indicted again in October 2013.