President Trump has pardoned four U.S. security guards who were serving jail sentences for massacring 14 civilians, including two children, in Baghdad in 2007.
The four private security firm Blackwater employees – Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Nicholas Slatten – were part of an armoured convoy that opened fire indiscriminately with machine-guns, grenade launchers and a sniper on a crowd of unarmed people in a square in the Iraqi capital.
The Guardian reports that Slough, Liberty and Heard were convicted on multiple charges of voluntary and attempted manslaughter in 2014, while Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder. Slattern was sentenced to life and the others to 30 years in prison each.
At the sentencing, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement: “The sheer amount of unnecessary human loss and suffering attributable to the defendants’ criminal conduct on 16 September 2007 is staggering.”
The U.S. government said in a memorandum filed after the sentencing: “None of the victims was an insurgent, or posed any threat to the Raven 23 convoy.”
Also quoted in the memorandum was David Boslego, a retired U.S. army colonel, who said the massacre was “a grossly excessive use of force” and “grossly inappropriate for an entity whose only job was to provide personal protection to somebody in an armoured vehicle.”
Boslego also said the attack had “a negative effect on our mission, [an] adverse effect … It made our relationship with the Iraqis in general more strained.”
After news of the pardon emerged on Tuesday night, Brian Heberlig, a lawyer for one of the four pardoned Blackwater defendants, said: “Paul Slough and his colleagues didn’t deserve to spend one minute in prison. I am overwhelmed with emotion at this fantastic news.”
The 14 victims killed by the Blackwater guards on trial were listed as Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y, Mahassin Mohssen Kadhum Al-Khazali, Osama Fadhil Abbas, Ali Mohammed Hafedh Abdul Razzaq, Mohamed Abbas Mahmoud, Qasim Mohamed Abbas Mahmoud, Sa’adi Ali Abbas Alkarkh, Mushtaq Karim Abd Al-Razzaq, Ghaniyah Hassan Ali, Ibrahim Abid Ayash, Hamoud Sa’eed Abttan, Uday Ismail Ibrahiem, Mahdi Sahib Nasir and Ali Khalil Abdul Hussein.
The pardons are one of several the U.S. president has granted to American service personnel and contractors accused or convicted of crimes against non-combatants and civilians in war zones.
In November last year, he pardoned a former U.S. army commando who was set to stand trial over the killing of a suspected Afghan bomb-maker, and a former army lieutenant convicted of murder for ordering his men to fire at three Afghans.