US president Donald Trump’s pardon to four Blackwater guards convicted for killing unarmed Iraqi civilians has evoked outrage from human right groups. The pardon by Trump was issued on Tuesday, December 23. On Wednesday, several countries including Iraq, harshly criticized the move which comes weeks before Trump’s presidential term expires on January 20.
Iraqi foreign ministry released a statement on Wednesday saying that such decisions are “inconsistent with the US administration’s declared commitment to the values of human rights, justice and the rule of law,” and sought a review of the decision. The statement also underlines that the pardon did not take into account the “dignity of the victims and the feelings and rights of their relatives.”
The four guards employed by the private militia company Blackwater, which was contracted by the US army during its invasion of Iraq, were tried and convicted for the unprovoked murder of 14 Iraqi civilians and injuries to 17 others at Baghdad’s Nisour Square on September 16, 2007.
Among the 14 killed, at least two were minors, with the youngest victim identified as Ali Kinani or Ali Mohammed Hafedh Abdul Razzaq (aged 9).
Following global condemnation, legal proceedings against these guards were first initiated in 2008. However, an American court then dismissed the case, which was only reopened in 2013. Three of the Blackwater guards, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, were found guilty of manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and firearms offenses, and were sentenced to 30 years in prison by a US court in 2014.
A fourth guard, identified as Nicholas Slatten, was convicted for first degree murder after it was determined that he had initiated the massacre by firing the first round in 2014. He appealed his conviction which was rejected and he was sentenced for life in 2019.
In September 2017, a US federal court judge, Royce Lamberth, reduced the sentences of Slough, Liberty and Heard from 30 years to 15 years, 14 years, and 12 years and seven months, respectively. The judge also praised these “fine young men” and attributed their unprovoked killing of Iraqi civilians as an act committed under duress.
None of these guards ever expressed remorse for killing the civilians and had even defended their act, calling it an “honorable service” to their country.
Trump’s decision to pardon the guards has invited condemnation from several human rights and anti-war groups, such as CODEPINK in the US, and elsewhere. Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK, called Trump’s pardon “disgusting”.
Trump could have pardoned whistleblowers Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Instead he chose to pardon 4 Blackwater mercenaries who murdered 17 Iraqi civilians, including two boys 8 and 11, in an unprovoked attack on a crowd of unarmed people. Disgusting.
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) December 23, 2020
Paul Dickinson, attorney and lawyer for some of the victims of the massacre called the move to pardon the Blackwater guards a miscarriage of justice. “My clients assuredly feel ignored, mistreated and used. Their belief in our legal system was misplaced,” he wrote in an article published in The Intercept.