Between December 2020 and January of this year, then President Trump signed over 150 pardons for a variety of felons, thieves, personal friends and in one case, a convicted cop killer.
Other presidents have exercised the powers granted by Article Two of the constitution, but no president has ever used that power to pardon so many people who deserve to spend years in prison for their crimes.
Of all the pardons, he granted none is more shocking than freeing four private contractors who killed 14 Iraqi citizens, including two boys age 9 and 11.
The Blackwater company is an entity with strong ties to the Trump administration’s former Education Secretary Betsy De Vos, whose brother Erik Prince founded Blackwater.
Over the years, Blackwater has performed multiple tasks in war zones, using helicopters, military-style vehicles and bomb-sniffing dogs. Their job is to supplement the role that the Army plays in dangerous regions. The company earnings as “hired guns” have been estimated to be over $1 billion. It has recently been sold.
The story of the Nisour Square Massacre dates back to Sept. 16, 2007.
Several Blackwater security contractors were assigned to a convoy of four heavily armed trucks using the call signs “Raven 23.” Shortly before noon, Raven 23 learned that a car bomb had been detonated in Central Baghdad near a location where a U.S. official was being escorted by a Blackwater team. The Raven 23 team members drove to a checkpoint between the Green and the Red Zone.
Once there, in disregard of an order from Blackwater’s command, the team left the Green zone to establish a blockade in Nisour Square, a busy traffic circle. While occupying parts of the traffic circle, seven Blackwater employees, including the four defendants, under no threat, began firing their weapons, resulting in the deaths or injury of unarmed civilians.
After the firing stopped, one contractor, Paul A. Slough continued firing his weapon killing or injuring other civilians. Two more Blackwater personnel drove on firing at civilians in other parts of the city.
The first to be killed was Ahmed Al Ruby, age 21, an aspiring doctor who was driving his mother to a doctor’s appointment. His mother, a 44-year-old medical doctor, died shortly thereafter.
The rest that were killed in the shooting spree were a car salesman, an Iraqi soldier who was assigned to guard the traffic sector, a taxi driver, a motorcyclist on his way to work, women on their way to shop and the two children. When the killing incident was over 14 people were dead and there were countless injured.
Four of the shooters claimed that they were under fire and felt threatened. Eyewitnesses claimed that the men had panicked and opened fire indiscriminately. Four men were charged and brought to trial in June 2014.
During the trial, the government presented testimony from 71 witnesses, including 30 from Iraq, who traveled to the United States for the trial. There were 10 weeks of testimony and 28 days of jury deliberation. All four were found guilty. The government’s witnesses included nine members of Raven 23.
On April 13, 2015, federal district judge Royce C. Lamberth sentenced Nicholas Slatten to life in prison and the other three to 30-year terms. The judge expressed some sympathy for the defendants but he said, “the wild unprovoked shooting just cannot ever be condoned by the court.”
FBI investigators who had visited the scene in the following days described it as the “My Lai massacre of Iraq”, a reference to the slaughter of civilian villagers by US troops during the Vietnam war.
After a series of legal maneuvers and appeals, Slatten was sentenced to life in prison and the other three were sentenced to reduced terms of 15 years. Article Two of the Constitution gives the president the power to grant reprieves and pardons for “offenses against the U.S.”
The crimes these four committed were crimes against humanity. It may well be that most Americans couldn’t care less about the deaths of a bunch of people over 3,000 miles away, but that’s not what our country stands for.
On Dec. 23, 2020, President Trump pardoned the four defendants. This was just another example of the former president’s disrespect for the rule of law and another ugly favor to his political backers.