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Trump Pardons War Criminals Again

The latest round of pardons from the president included several for cronies and political allies, but beyond the usual sleaziness were some truly outrageous pardons for four convicted war criminals responsible for a massacre in Iraq:

Mr. Trump’s pardon list also included four former U.S. service members who were convicted on charges related to the killing of Iraqi civilians while working as contractors in 2007.

One of them, Nicholas Slatten, had been sentenced to life in prison after the Justice Department had gone to great lengths to prosecute him. Mr. Slatten had been a contractor for the private company Blackwater and was sentenced for his role in the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad — a massacre that left one of the most lasting stains of the war on the United States. Among those dead were 10 men, two women and two boys, who were 8 and 11.

As a candidate, the president advocated for war crimes and called for reviving the use of torture, and as president he has pardoned or commuted the sentences of accused and convicted American war criminals. He just did so again today. It is not at all surprising that the president would issue these pardons, but it needs to be stressed just how appalling and despicable these pardons are. There is no question that the mercenaries convicted of these crimes were guilty, and the massacre that these men committed is an inexcusable atrocity. Letting such men off the hook makes a mockery of the rule of law, our government’s respect for the lives of innocent people, and the true purpose of clemency. These pardons set convicted killers free, they insult all those hundreds of thousands of Americans that have served honorably under similar or worse conditions, and they send the message to the world that the U.S. won’t really punish its own people when they commit terrible outrages in other countries.

Like the Clint Lorance pardon that Trump issued last year, the pardons for the Blackwater mercenaries have nothing to do with using the pardon power to correct some grave injustice. They are an egregious abuse of clemency to help convicted murderers escape the consequences of their actions. Nicholas Slatten was sentenced to life for his role in the killings. Slatten’s three fellow mercenaries had been sentenced in 2015 to 30 years.

The four men had absolutely no justification for what they did:

“In killing and maiming unarmed civilians, these defendants acted unreasonably and without justification,” the US attorney’s office said in a statement. “In combination, the sheer amount of unnecessary human loss and suffering attributable to the defendants’ criminal conduct on September 16, 2007, is staggering.”

The massacre left 14 civilians dead and at least 17 wounded. “None of the victims was an insurgent, or posed any threat to the Raven 23 convoy,” the government said, in a sentencing memorandum filed to the court on 8 April.

The memorandum contained quotations from relatives of those killed in the attack, including Mohammad Kinani, whose nine-year-old son Ali was killed. “That day changed my life forever. That day destroyed me completely,” Kinani said.

Also quoted in the memorandum was David Boslego, a retired US army colonel, who said that 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 armored vehicle.”

Justice for the victims of this massacre had already been delayed for many years, and now it has been thrown in the trash.

Granting clemency to unrepentant criminals and corrupt cronies is an injustice in itself, but it also means that wrongly-convicted prisoners and non-violent offenders are left in the lurch while the worst of the worst are given a free pass. Taken together with the administration’s sanctions on the International Criminal Court and his indulgence of war crimes committed by U.S.-backed clients, Trump’s many pardons of American war criminals underscore just how much contempt the president has for holding war criminals accountable. Trump’s pardons for war criminals are indelible stains on his presidency, and they bring lasting shame and disgrace on this country.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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