By Aruna Viswanatha
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Four former security guards for Blackwater Worldwide “took something that didn’t belong to them, the lives of 14 human beings,” in September 2007 when they fired on civilians in a Baghdad traffic circle, a U.S. prosecutor told jurors on Wednesday.
Several victims were shot in the back as they tried to flee, federal prosecutor Anthony Asuncion noted. Summing up the government’s case against the guards, he also recounted the testimony of relatives who had given emotional accounts of their loved ones’ gory deaths.
Asuncion began closing arguments by painting the ex-security guards as cold-blooded killers who unleashed firepower on Iraqi civilians who posed no threat.
The shootings at Nisur Square, four years into the Iraq war, sparked international outrage. The guards were trying to secure a path for a State Department convoy.
Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Evan Liberty had been charged with manslaughter over 13 of the deaths, attempt to commit manslaughter of others who were wounded, and a firearms offense that carries a mandatory 30-year sentence.
A fourth guard, Nicholas Slatten, is charged with murdering the driver of a white Kia, Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y, with what prosecutors contend were the first, unprovoked shots at Nisur Square.
The jury is expected to hear from the defendants’ lawyers later this week, and begin deliberations early next week. Lawyers for the guards have portrayed the men as facing gunfire from multiple directions and making split-second decisions to defend themselves.
For more than two months, the jury has heard from a series of witnesses, including relatives of those killed. It also heard from other members of the Blackwater convoy, known as Raven 23, who have provided a mixed picture of whether the unit faced threats when its members fired.
On Wednesday Asuncion walked the jury through some of the testimony, showing photos of each witness and emotionally recounting their words.
His voice cracking, Asuncion reminded jurors of the father of nine-year-old Ali Razzaq, who spoke of getting out of his car to have “his son’s brains fall out at his feet.”
On Wednesday Asuncion recounted how another Raven 23 member, Marc Mealy, had testified that Slatten spoke of Iraqis as “animals” and had boasted of shooting a man whose head he “turned…into a canoe.”
The trial has unfolded as Islamic State militants have captured one-third of Iraq, drawing the first American air strikes there since the end of the occupation in 2011.
Last week prosecutors dismissed charges Heard and Liberty had faced over five of the deaths.
(Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha; Editing by Caren Bohan and David Gregorio)