23/12/2020–|Last updated: 12/23/202002:32 PM (Makkah)
US President Donald Trump completely pardoned 4 former Blackwater security guards who were convicted of committing a massacre that left 14 civilians dead in Baghdad in 2007 and sentenced to long prison terms, a massacre that sparked an international uproar over the use of private contractors in war zones.
The White House included the names of Nicholas Slaten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard on its list of exemptions, which originally provided for 15 full pardons and reduced sentences for 5 others.
The White House statement stated that the exemption decision enjoys “broad support from public opinion and elected officials,” adding that what it described as the four combatants “has a long history of serving their country.”
The statement pointed out that the conviction of the four persons on charges ranging from first-degree murder to premeditated murder came despite the initial charges being lifted.
Details of the massacre
According to the British newspaper The Guardian, the four security guards were part of an armored convoy that fired indiscriminately with machine guns and grenade launchers at a crowd of unarmed people in the Iraqi capital on September 16, 2007, and was known in the media as the Nisour Square massacre.
In 2014, Slough, Liberty and Heard were convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted premeditated murder, while Slaten, the team sniper who was the first to shoot, was convicted of first-degree murder. Slatan was sentenced to life in prison, and Slough, Liberty and Heard were each sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Prosecutors confirmed that the heavily armed Blackwater “Raven 23” convoy launched an unprovoked attack, using sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers. Defense lawyers said their clients returned fire after being ambushed by Iraqi gunmen.
“None of the victims were a rebel, nor did they pose any threat to the Raven 23 convoy,” the US government said in a memo filed after the verdict. The memo also included quotes from relatives of the dead, including Muhammad al-Kinani, whose 9-year-old son Ali was killed. “That day changed my life forever,” Al-Kinani said. “That day destroyed me completely.”
The memo also quoted David Boslego, a retired US Army colonel, who said that the massacre was “an excessive use of force” and “completely inappropriate for an entity whose sole function is to provide personal protection for someone in an armored vehicle.” Poslejo also said that the attack had “a negative impact on our mission, … made our relationship with the Iraqis in general more tense.”
FBI investigators who visited the site in the following days described the incident as the “My Lai Massacre in Iraq” – referring to the infamous massacre of civilian villagers by US forces during the Vietnam War – in which only one soldier was convicted. Against the background of these events, Iraq expelled Blackwater from the country at the time.
After news of the pardon came on Tuesday night, Brian Heberleigh, attorney for one of the four pardoned defendants, said, “Paul Slow and his colleagues do not deserve to spend a minute in jail.”
Trump’s decision comes weeks before his presidential term ends.