Trump’s leniency for the Blackwater guards has caused an ocean of outrage in the Middle East

Sweta Choudhury


A security contractor in Baghdad, 2007


The Nissour Square massacre is one of the darkest chapters of the Iraq war and continues to haunt survivors of all ages. The unlawful shootings instigated several high-profile investigations, including one from the FBI. After a lengthy trial, four Blackwater employees were convicted in 2014. Of the four, one was convicted of murder and the other three of manslaughter and firearms charges. Scandalously on December 23rd 2020, right after his electoral defeat, Donald Trump pardoned all four criminals. His controversial decision to pardon the former Blackwater private security contractors has rightfully been met with intense international backlash and condemnation.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the pardons “a new low” for the Trump administration and “insults the memory of the Iraqi victims and further degrades the office of the president.”[1]In a joint statement obtained by Reuters, retired Gen. David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the top American officials in charge of U.S. policy in Iraq at the time of the 2007 killings, called the pardons “hugely damaging, an action that tells the world that Americans abroad can commit the most heinous crimes with impunity.”[2]

U.N. experts said that the pardons were a violation of U.S. obligations under international law. U.N. Human Rights Office spokeswoman Marta Hurtado said that forgiveness “contributes to impunity and has the effect of encouraging others to commit such crimes in the future”. But most of all, Trump’s leniency for the Blackwater guards has also caused an ocean of outrage in the Middle East with Iraqis calling it a “cruel slap” and an insult to the victims and their families.

What is also telling about this matter is the military’s use of private contractors and the questions surrounding the management, legitimacy and accountability of those forces. American politicians and military personnel have long relied on private security contractors to mask distasteful aspects of war purposefully. According to a recent Pentagon report, an estimated 5500 private military contractors were still operating in Iraq and Syria. In Afghanistan, the numbers are as high as 5800.

Presidential pardons, historically, have been reserved for non-violent crimes and are based on the acceptance of responsibility and remorse from those convicted. The Blackwater guards don’t meet either criterion, so it’s evident that Trump’s decision to grant pardons has been heavily swayed by personal appeals from cronies, illustrating the corruption of his rotten administration. Blackwater was founded by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince, whose sister, Betsy DeVos, was Trump’s education secretary.

His clemency towards the guards is perhaps not surprising after all. Throughout his presidency, he has also wiped away punishments for several political backers, and service personnel and contractors who had been indicted or convicted of war crimes, including a former army lieutenant convicted of murder for ordering his men to fire at three unarmed Afghans.[3]

What is appalling in this recent round of pardons is the lack of moral responsibility and legal accountability for the numerous war crimes committed in Iraq. This attempt to retroactively whitewash the pointless war and the ghastly consequences borne by innocent civilians is an affront to justice and human rights.

The Blackwater scandal is just one of several examples of Trump encouraging political violence. The most recent testimony is that at his behest, hordes of his supporters descended on the Capitol building last week to dispute the results of the election. The Capitol breach is a direct result of Trump’s incendiary, racist rhetoric culminating over his four-year presidency, encouraging far-right hate groups worldwide. Thankfully, it’s not long until he leaves the White House. But his racist and fascist rhetoric will still be around, so we must be prepared to confront anyone representing such revolting ideas.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelsandler/2020/12/23/trump-faces-international-backlash-for-pardoning-blackwater-contractors-convicted-of-killing-iraqi-civilians/?sh=3fd823952273

[2] https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/532368-blackwater-guard-defends-actions-following-trump-pardon-saying-im

[3]https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/dec/23/our-blood-is-cheaper-than-water-iraqis-anger-over-trump-pardons

11 Jan 2021

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