Four former employees of Blackwater, the since-rebranded private security giant that won huge government contracts to protect Americans during the Iraq War, were sentenced to decades in prison on Monday for their participation in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

Nicholas A. Slatten, who before jumping in the mercenary game was an Army sniper from Tennessee, got life for murder. He was the one who fired the initial, unprovoked shots that set off a bloodbath and caused some 14 civilian deaths in a crowded traffic circle.

“In criminal justice, there are moments where people get caught in a kind of proverbial vortex—a perfect storm,” said Geoffrey S. Corn, a former Army officer, lawyer, and professor at the South Texas College of Law who specializes in international jurisdiction issues. “And these guys—whether good, bad, or indifferent—were deeply involved in the incident that became symbolic for the impunity of armed security contractors.”

The slaughter was a massive public relations and foreign policy disaster for the Bush administration, one career prosecutors at the Justice Department were determined to correct. But as Matt Apuzzo reported for the New York Times, internal squabbling over just how hard to push for lengthy prison sentences—not to mention allegations of prosecutorial misconduct—nearly derailed the whole thing.

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