President Donald Trump has pardoned four Blackwater security guards who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for killing 14 civilians in Baghdad in 2007, a massacre that sparked an international uproar over the use of private contractors in war zones.
The four, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Nicholas Slatten, were part of an armored convoy that opened fire indiscriminately with machine guns and grenade launchers on a crowd of unarmed people in the Iraqi capital. Known as the Nisour Square Massacre, the massacre was seen as a low point in the conflict in Iraq.
In 2014, Slough, Liberty and Heard were convicted of 13 counts of willful manslaughter and 17 counts of attempted murder, while Slatten, the team’s sniper who was the first to open fire, was convicted of first-degree murder. Slatten was sentenced to life imprisonment; Slough, Liberty and Heard each received 30 years.
A federal judge dismissed an initial prosecution, sparking outrage in Iraq, but then-Vice President Joe Biden promised to launch a new prosecution, backed by judges.
At sentencing, the US attorney’s office said in a statement: “The enormous amount of unnecessary human loss and suffering attributable to the criminal conduct of the defendants on September 16, 2007 is staggering.”
After news of the clemency broke in Tuesday night, Brian Heberlig, attorney for one of the four defendants pardoned from Blackwater, said: “Paul Slough and his colleagues did not deserve to spend a minute in prison. I am overwhelmed with excitement at this fantastic news. “
The pardons reflect Trump’s apparent willingness to give US service personnel and contractors the benefit of the doubt when it comes to acts of violence against civilians in war zones. In November last year, he pardoned a former US military commander on trial for the murder of an alleged Afghan bomb maker and a former army lieutenant convicted of murder for ordering his men to shoot three Afghans.
Supporters of the former Blackwater Worldwide contractors had lobbied for pardons, arguing that the men had been over-punished.
Prosecutors claimed that the heavily armed Blackwater “Raven 23” convoy launched an unprovoked attack using sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers. Defense attorneys argued that their clients responded to fire after being ambushed by Iraqi insurgents.
The US government said in a post-sentencing memorandum: “None of the victims was an insurgent or posed any threat to the Raven 23 convoy.” The memo also contained quotes from relatives of the dead, including Mohammad Kinani, whose nine-year-old son Ali was killed. “That day changed my life forever. That day it completely destroyed me, ”Kinani said.
Also cited in the memo is David Boslego, a retired US Army colonel, who said the massacre was “an extremely excessive use of force” and “extremely inappropriate for an entity whose sole job was to provide personal protection to someone in a armored vehicle. ”.
Boslego also said that the attack had “a negative effect on our mission, [an] adverse effect … It made our relationship with Iraqis in general more strained. “
FBI investigators who visited the scene in the following days described it as the “My Lai massacre in Iraq,” a reference to the infamous killing of civilian villagers by US troops during the Vietnam War, in which only a soldier was convicted.
After the convictions, Blackwater, which switched to Academi after being sold and renamed in 2011, said it was “relieved that the justice system has completed its investigation into a tragedy that occurred in Nisour Square in 2007 and that any crime that has been committed has been addressed by our courts.
“The security industry has evolved dramatically since those events, and under the direction of new owners and leadership, Academi has invested heavily in compliance and ethics programs, training for our employees, and preventative measures to strictly comply with all local government laws. and the US. “
The 14 victims killed by Blackwater guards in the trial are listed as Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y, Mahassin Mohssen Kadhum Al-Khazali, Osama Fadhil Abbas, Ali Mohammed Hafedh Abdul Razzaq, Mohamed Abbas Mahmoud, Qasim Mohamed Abbas Mahmoud, Sa ‘ adi Ali Abbas Alkarkh, Mushtaq Karim Abd Al-Razzaq, Ghaniyah Hassan Ali, Ibrahim Abid Ayash, Hamoud Sa’eed Abttan, Uday Ismail Ibrahiem, Mahdi Sahib Nasir, and Ali Khalil Abdul Hussein.
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