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Pardoning war criminals

The US-led war on Iraq, which formally began in March 2003 but essentially started more than a decade earlier with frequent aerial bombing and oppressive economic sanctions, was greenlit by the US Congress under false pretenses. It was sold to the American people by political leaders and corporate media via a mass disinformation campaign. The war was a regime change war and a war for oil, rooted in racism, revenge, imperialism and capitalism. It violated international law on multiple levels, including as a war of aggression. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed and maimed. Over 4,500 ‘coalition forces’, most of whom were Americans, lost their lives. Tens of thousands more were wounded, many permanently. Nearly two decades on, occupying soldiers and Iraqi civilians are still dying. Some refer to the ongoing violence as blowback; yet, it is anything but unintended. It is the very nature of a military occupation to win by attrition, no matter the cost in lives or money.

Imperial forces who committed some of the worst atrocities in the name of the so-called ‘War on Terror’ continue to escape accountability and justice for their crimes. Last year alone, Donald Trump granted clemency to war criminals from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They included Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, convicted of posing with the body of a teenage Islamic State captive whom he had killed with a hunting knife; Army Lieutenant Clint Lorance, convicted of ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan civilians, killing two; Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, charged with executing a suspected Taliban bombmaker; and, Army Lieutenant Michael Behenna, convicted by a military court for murdering an Iraqi prisoner.

If these outrageous acts of clemency were not revolting enough, on December 22 Trump further cemented his legacy as a malignant narcissist and amoral gangster, one who possesses a deep disdain for the Constitution and international law, by pardoning four convicted US war criminals responsible for massacring unarmed Iraqi civilians. In September 2007, under the pretext of providing security for US diplomats, four former guards (Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten and Paul Slough) from the private security contractor Blackwater used machine guns and grenade launchers to slaughter 17 innocent people, including two children, in Nisour Square, a Baghdad traffic circle. The unprovoked rampage also wounded at least 20. The indiscriminate attack on Iraqi men, women and children was so barbaric and cold-blooded that it was compared by some to the ‘My Lai massacre’, the murder, rape and torture of hundreds of Vietnam civilians, mostly women and children, by a platoon of US troops in March 1968.

Founded by the right-wing Christian fundamentalist Erik Prince, a former US Navy SEAL officer and the brother of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Secretary, Blackwater USA (now Academi) is a mercenary force funded with US taxpayer dollars that operated with sheer ruthlessness and extreme impunity in Iraq and elsewhere. The 2007 book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, written by investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, provides a hard-hitting and detailed history and analysis of the notorious company.

The youngest victim of the Nisour Square massacre, a nine-year-old boy named Ali Kinani, was shot in the head while traveling through the Square with his father, Mohammed, and a few other family members. In a piece written for The Nation magazine in 2010 titled Blackwater’s Youngest Victim, Scahill tells the story of Ali, his family and the massacre. A short documentary by the same name contains an in-depth interview with Ali’s father. Paul Dickinson, an attorney who represented Ali’s family and five other families in a civil lawsuit against Blackwater and Erik Prince, recently penned an op-ed for The Intercept titled I Sued Blackwater for the Massacre of Iraqi Civilians. Trump Just Pardoned Those Convicted Killers. In the article, Dickinson states, “These men will now be free, despite their crimes, and they will not serve the time in prison they deserved. My clients assuredly feel ignored, mistreated, and used. Their belief in our legal system was misplaced. The result is not just that we see an injustice in the United States, but that the world must surely see cracks in the pillars of justice upon which our system is based. That may be the overriding damage caused by these pardons…” Dickinson was also recently interviewed on Democracy Now! to respond to the pardons.

In what became the FBI’s most intensive and expensive criminal investigations since 9/11, material, testimonial and forensic evidence was gathered and used in the prosecution and conviction of the accused Blackwater guards. In the opinion article, How I know the Blackwater defendants didn’t deserve a pardon from Trump, Thomas O’Connor, an FBI special agent who helped investigate the massacre, recounts the detailed investigation that took place and the substantial credible evidence that was collected. O’Connor writes, “I know that these men were undeserving of pardons because I was a member of The FBI Evidence Response Team that traveled to Iraq and investigated the site of these killings…The system worked and justice was brought to the deceased, the injured victims and their families. The families of those killed and wounded at Nisour Square will now watch those responsible for this tragedy go free thanks to a pardon by the President of the United States.”

International outrage over the pardons was swift and straightforward. The lip service that the US government pays to valuing and protecting human rights, domestically and internationally, is contradicted time and again by their policies. A statement released by the UN Human Rights Office shortly after the pardons read in part: “We are deeply concerned by the recent US presidential pardons… Pardoning them contributes to impunity and has the effect of emboldening others to commit such crimes in the future. …”

Brian Trautman, "Pardoning war criminals," The News. 2021-01-05.
Keywords: Law and humanity , International law , Presidential pardons , Forensic evidence , Human rights , Accountability , War on terror , Capitalism