The United Nations Human Rights Council has urged President Donald Trump to reconsider his decision to pardon four former operatives of Blackwater sentenced to prison for the shooting deaths of 14 civilian Iraqis at a public square. The former private contractors – Nicholas Slatten, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, and Paul Slough killed Iraqi civilians and wounded others in the country’s Nisoor Square in 2007.
Nineteen operatives of Blackwater were guarding US officials on September 16, 2007; and the four heavily armed vehicles they were guarding were at the square in Baghdad. According to reports, Slatten felt they were about to be attacked and opened fire, prompting three other armed guards to do the same. All four fired at civilians and ended up killing 14 people according to the United States, but Iraqi authorities said 17 people were killed.
Ten men, two women, and two boys were killed by the Blackwater guards, according to prosecutors. One of the boys, a nine-year-old, was in the back seat of his father’s car when he was shot in the head. The other boy was 11 years old when the guards shot and killed him. According to the Department of Justice, the first victim, who was studying to become a doctor, was driving his mother to an appointment when he was killed, the BBC reports.
Eyewitnesses at the scene stated that the shooting began when a driver, scared at the sight of the armored vehicles, ignored the warning to stop and kept driving towards the vehicles. The witnesses explained that the guards had been unnerved and started shooting without caution. The incident and similar incidents have been reasons for the strained relationship between Iraq and the United States. Trump’s pardons will further bring back the bad memories and hatred fuelled by the killings.
A US Federal Court convicted the four contractors in 2014. Slatten got a life sentence for murder while Heard, Liberty, and Slough got 30 years of imprisonment each, for manslaughter and other charges. A Court of Appeals later reversed Slatten’s sentence. In 2019, after two other trials, Slatten was sentenced to life imprisonment without the option of parole. Slough’s term was reduced to 15 years, while Liberty and Heard were to spend 14 and 12 years respectively in prison.
According to a statement from the White House, Trump pardoned the four as a result of their “long history of service to the country”.
Mohammed Kinani, who lost his nine-year-old boy to the shootings, also denounced the president’s pardons. The devastated father told reporters that the pardons have reopened his wounds. US Senator Chris Murphy stated on Twitter that the pardons are a grave mistake made to undermine the national security effort of the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.