The latest round of executive grants of clemency by US President Donald Trump has seen a total of fifteen individuals pardoned, including four Americans guilty of killing seventeen Iraqi civilians in 2007.
In a statement published on the White House website on 22nd December by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, the killers – Evan Liberty, Paul Slough, Nicholas Slatten, and Dustin Heard – were portrayed in a favourable light:
“These veterans were working in Iraq in 2007 as security contractors responsible for securing the safety of United States personnel. When the convoy attempted to establish a blockade outside the “Green Zone,” the situation turned violent, which resulted in the unfortunate deaths and injuries of Iraqi civilians.”
“Initial charges against the men were dismissed, but they were eventually tried and convicted on charges ranging from first degree murder to voluntary manslaughter.”
“On appeal, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that additional evidence should have been presented at Mr. Slatten’s trial.”
“Further, prosecutors recently disclosed—more than 10 years after the incident—that the lead Iraqi investigator, who prosecutors relied heavily on to verify that there were no insurgent victims and to collect evidence, may have had ties to insurgent groups himself.”
The Nisour Square massacre – as the fateful event has come to be known – took place on 16th September 2007. Private military contractors operating from the Blackwater Security Consulting company shot at unarmed Iraqi civilians, killing seventeen and wounding twenty.
At the time, the four men were escorting a US embassy convoy. In the years-long legal aftermath, the four men accused civilians of having ambushed their motorcade, but the FBI later found that, of the seventeen deaths, fourteen “were unjustified and violated deadly-force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq”.
Among others granted clemency by Trump was George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide, together with numerous other Republican supporters of Trump during his presidential campaign in 2016.
The pardoning of the Blackwater mercenaries will undoubtedly have outraged many around the world, just as there was international fury in 2007 when the massacre occurred.
After years of back and forth within the US courts system – going through District Courts, the Courts of Appeal, and even the Supreme Court, with aftershocks in the State Department and the Department of Justice – a ruling was finally delivered in 2015 that handed down jail time for the men.
Of the four men, three – Slough, Heard, and Liberty – were sentenced to 30 years each, while Slatten was sentenced to life imprisonment. The ruling was delivered on 13th April 2015 by Judge Royce Lamberth, who refused an appeal of leniency from the defence.
On the same day, the US Attorney’s Office was unrelenting in its outrage, not at the sentences handed down by Judge Lamberth, but at the actions of the contractors:
“In killing and maiming unarmed civilians, these defendants acted unreasonably and without justification. In combination, the sheer amount of unnecessary human loss and suffering attributable to the defendants’ criminal conduct on September 16, 2007, is staggering.”
Subsequent to the 2015 ruling, appeals were made covering different legal avenues. In 2017, Slatten’s murder conviction was overturned, and the remaining trio were to be resentenced. In 2018, Slatten’s original murder conviction was reinstated, and in 2019 he was again sentenced to life imprisonment.
Now fast approaching the end of 2020, and with the convicted killers now free men, this particular executive use of clemency is yet another stain on the shocking record on human rights violations against Muslims by the United States in the past few decades.