President Trump's decision to pardon four Blackwater contractors convicted of killing more than a dozen unarmed civilians in Baghdad has caused anger in Iraq—and concern at the United Nations. The UN rights office says it is "deeply concerned" by the pardons for the men involved the 2007 massacre. "These four individuals were given sentences ranging from 12 years to life imprisonment, including on charges of first-degree murder," spokeswoman Marta Hurtado said Wednesday. "Pardoning them contributes to impunity and has the effect of emboldening others to commit such crimes in the future." More:
- The massacre. The pardoned men—Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard, and Nicholas Slatten—were among Blackwater contractors involved in what became known as the Nisour Square Massacre. They were escorting a US embassy convoy near the Green Zone when they opened fire at a crowded traffic circle using machine guns and grenade launchers. They later said they mistakenly believed they were under attack. At least 14 civilians, including two children, were killed. Iraqi authorities put the death toll at 17. "Anything that moved in Nisour Square was shot. Women, children, young people, they shot everyone," a lawyer who survived the attack said.
- The sentences. Slatten was found guilty of murder in 2014 and the other three were found guilty of manslaughter. After Slatten's second retrial in 2019, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Slough, Liberty and Heard had their sentences cut to 15, 14, and 12 years.
- Fury in Iraq. In Iraq, where the massacre was one of the most notorious incidents of the war, the move was met with shock and anger, especially from the victims' families. "How are these criminals released after they killed 17 innocent people?" Hussein Saheb Nasser tells NBC. "On what basis did Trump depend on to release them? Let us assume that I travel to America and kill 17 American citizens. Are they going to release me?" Nasser's younger brother, a taxi driver, was killed in the massacre.
- Trump "broke my life again." The president "broke my life again," Mohammed Kinani, a US-Iraqi dual citizen whose 9-year-old son was the youngest victim, tells the BBC. "He broke the law. He broke everything. He broke the court. He broke the judge."
- Links to Trump administration. CNN notes that Blackwater was founded by Erik Prince—brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
- Biden will be asked to reverse move. Iraqi authorities plan to ask President-elect Joe Biden, who pushed for a fresh prosecution after the initial charges were dismissed in 2009, to revoke the pardons, though such a move would likely be unconstitutional. "It will be the first thing we discuss with him," said an aide to the prime minister, Mustafa Khadimi, per the Guardian.
- Home for Christmas. Attorney David Schertler tells the Knoxville News Sentinel that Heard has been released from a federal prison and will be with his family in Tennessee for Christmas. "We have always believed in Dustin’s innocence and have never given up the fight to vindicate him," Schertler says.
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