The Blackwater trial: A shameful case exposes a murky world

Out of America: The Blackwater trial of US mercenaries who killed civilians in Iraq highlights the role of ‘private security’ in modern wars

It was one of the most shameful incidents in a war full of them. On 16 September 2007, employees of the private security firm once known as Blackwater, assigned to protect a United States State Department convoy, opened fire on civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad, killing 17 of them.

After the nauseating pictureshow of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, America’s reputation had sunk to another nadir: Blackwater became a symbol of a country so arrogant in its treatment of an Iraq it was professing to save that it allowed hired guns to use the capital as a shooting range.

And for a while, it seemed, arrogance would be piled on arrogance, as US authorities refused to permit the men to face an Iraqi court. But last week in Washington justice was finally was done. Four of those Blackwater employees were convicted of murder and criminal manslaughter, on charges brought by the US government.

They now face decades in prison while the families of the victims of the unprovoked fusillade have, to use the fashionable term, gained “closure” of a sort. Nor was the chief federal prosecutor overdoing it when he hailed the verdicts as “a resounding affirmation” of America’s “commitment to the rule of law, even in a time of war”.