Iraq urges U.S. to reconsider Trump’s pardons for Blackwater guards

An undated photo of the building of the Iraqi Foreign Affairs Ministry in Baghdad

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Iraqi Foreign Ministry urged the United States to reconsider President Donald Trump’s decision to pardon four former Blackwater contractors jailed over the killing of more than a dozen Iraqi civilians.

AP reported on Wednesday that Trump had pardoned four former government contractors convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad that caused an international uproar over the use of private security guards in a war zone.

Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard opened fire in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square on September 16, 2007 while guarding an American diplomatic convoy.

When they stopped shooting, at least 14 Iraqi civilians were dead including 10 men, two women and two boys, aged nine and 11. Iraqi authorities put the toll at 17.

Prosecutors asserted the heavily armed Blackwater convoy launched an unprovoked attack using sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers, according to AP. Defense lawyers argued their clients returned fire after being ambushed by Iraqi insurgents.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Iraqi ministry of foreign affairs said it would follow up the decision through diplomatic channels with the U.S. government to urge it to reconsider it.

“The ministry believes that this decision did not take into account the seriousness of the crime committed and was inconsistent with the U.S. administration’s declared commitment to the values of human rights, justice and the rule of law,” the ministry said.

“The decision regrettably ignores the dignity of the victims and the feelings and rights of their relatives,” the ministry added.

Slough, Liberty and Heard were sentenced to 30 years in prison, though after a federal appeals court ordered them to be re-sentenced, they were each given substantially shorter punishments. Slatten, whom prosecutors blamed for igniting the firefight, was sentenced to life in prison.

A federal appeals court later overturned Slatten’s first-degree murder conviction, but the Justice Department tried him again and secured another life sentence last year.

The U.N. Human Rights Office warned on Wednesday that the pardons would serve to embolden others to commit similar crimes, according to BBC.

Joe Biden, speaking in Baghdad in 2010 as the vice president, expressed his “personal regret” for the shootings in declaring that the U.S. would appeal the court decision. The Justice Department later revived the case.

AP reported that Blackwater contractors were notorious in Baghdad at the time and frequently accused of firing shots at the slightest pretext, including to clear their way in traffic. The shooting in the traffic circle stood out for the number killed, but was far from an isolated event in Iraq at the time.

The Blackwater firm was founded by Erik Prince, an ally of Trump and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. It has since been renamed, AP said.

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