Four Blackwater operatives have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms for their role in the 2007 massacre of unarmed civilians at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. A jury handed down guilty verdicts last year over the killings of 14 of the 17 Iraqis who died when the defendants’ Blackwater unit opened fire. On Monday, Nicholas Slatten was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder, while three other guards convicted of manslaughter were sentenced to 30 years each. In their first public statements on the killings, each of the operatives professed their innocence to the sentencing judge. The trial, and Monday’s hearing, featured testimony from witnesses who survived the attack and saw loved ones gunned down. Nisoor Square is the highest-profile deadly incident involving Blackwater or any private war contractor. The case lagged for years with prosecutors accused of dragging their feet and a lower court’s dismissal of the charges in 2009. In response to the sentences, Jeremy Scahill, author of “Blackwater: the Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” said: “People who gun down innocent Iraqis … must answer for their crimes. So too should those who sent them there to kill at will.”
Russia is lifting a ban on anti-aircraft missile sales to Iran. The deliveries were halted in 2010 following a series of Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions over Iran’s nuclear activities. But Moscow says the ban is no longer needed because of the framework nuclear deal reached earlier this month. Defending the sale, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the system is purely defensive, and suggested it is all the more needed in light of the ongoing military campaign in Yemen led by Iran’s rival, Saudi Arabia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov: “I want to stress that S-300 is an air defense missile system, which is of a purely defensive nature. It is not designed for attacks and will not put at risk the security of any regional state, including Israel. But for Iran, taking into account a very tense situation in the region surrounding it, modern anti-aircraft systems are of great importance. Proof of this is the rapid and very worrying recent developments around Yemen and the development of a military situation around this country.”
Lavrov also added that Russia could use the money from the $800 million sale as it continues to face Western-led sanctions.
In Washington, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the United States has raised concerns with Russia about the deal, as well as over another proposal for an oil-for-food-type bartering program.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “The United States has previously made known our objections to that sale. And I understand that Secretary [John] Kerry had an opportunity to raise these concerns, once again, in a recent conversation with his Russian counterpart, Mr. Lavrov. We’re studying the details. And if this sort of arrangement were to move forward, it would raise serious concerns and even could potentially raise sanctions concerns. So we’re going to continue to evaluate that moving forward, as well.”
U.S. and Israeli objections appear to center on concerns the anti-missile systems would make it harder to launch military strikes on Iran. The New York Times notes the delivery of an anti-missile defense system could “reduce U.S. leverage in the [nuclear] talks by making it much harder for the United States or Israel to mount airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure if the country ignored such an agreement.” Retired General David Deptula, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, said: “It is significant as it complicates the calculus for planning any military option involving airstrikes.”
Secretary of State John Kerry has launched a bid to win congressional support for the framework nuclear deal. Speaking ahead of a closed-door briefing, Kerry said he hopes lawmakers will give the administration “space and time.”
Secretary of State John Kerry: “So we hope Congress will listen carefully and ask the questions that it wants, but also give us the space and the time to be able to complete a very difficult task, which has high stakes for our country, involves major national security, major issues of potential conflict versus peaceful resolution. And we’re very hopeful that this dialogue will be very productive.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee today will weigh a measure that would give Congress a say in the final nuclear deal with Iran that negotiators aim to reach by June 30. President Obama has vowed to veto the measure in its current form, saying it could threaten an agreement by blocking the lifting of U.S. sanctions.
At least 10 people have died in an attack on a government building in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. The militant group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility. This follows an al-Shabab massacre at a university in neighboring Kenya earlier this month that killed 148 people.
Nigeria is marking the first anniversary of the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls by the Boko Haram. On Monday, the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign held a silent march in the capital Abuja.
Maureen Kabrik: “You know, there are times that you are in pain, that you don’t even — to the extent that you don’t say a word. People talk to you, you have no answers for them. So, for us, we have reached this moment where tomorrow is going to be one year, and it’s so painful that sadly we might wake up tomorrow and our girls are still not back. We have talked and talked and talked and talked for 364 days today, so we feel it’s time to just go silent and express our pain by being quiet.”
In a new report, Amnesty International says the Boko Haram has kidnapped at least 2,000 women and girls since the start of 2014. Many have been forced into sexual slavery or taking part in violence.
Oklahoma prosecutors have charged a sheriff’s reserve deputy with second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American man in Tulsa. Robert Bates — who is white — says he mistakenly used his handgun instead of his stun gun, killing the victim, Eric Harris. Video from the Oklahoma sheriff’s department shows police officers exiting their cars and chasing Harris. After officers catch up to Harris and bring him to the ground, an officer calls out the word “Taser” twice, before firing a single, fatal shot. When Harris says, “I’m losing my breath,” an officer responds, ”BLEEP your breath.” On Monday, Eric Harris’ brother, Andre Harris, spoke out about the case.
Andre Harris: “If he had as much training as he supposedly had, he would definitely know a .357 from a Taser. This is something that either he didn’t really think about, or he just decided that he just wanted to shoot, and he would worry about it later.”
If found guilty, Bates’ second-degree manslaughter charge would likely mean a sentence of two and four years in prison. Bates is a wealthy insurance executive and heavy donor to the Tulsa police department, who gets to volunteer on the force as a reserve.
Activists have launched a nine-day march from New York City to Washington, D.C., to call for sweeping criminal justice reform from police departments to the courts. The 250-mile “March 2 Justice” seeks an end to racial profiling and militarized policing, as well as the dismantling of “the societal and institutional pillars of mass incarceration.”
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Rubio joins a Republican field that includes former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, as well as Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas.