Outrage over Presidential Pardons for Blackwater contractors


T20I Debutant
Dec 19, 2006
BAGHDAD: Iraq has ordered hundreds of private security guards linked to Blackwater Worldwide to leave the country within seven days or face possible arrest on visa violations.

The order, announced late Wednesday by the interior minister, comes in the wake of a US judge’s dismissal of criminal charges against five Blackwater guards who were accused in the September 2007 shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad.

It applies to about 250 security contractors who worked for Blackwater in Iraq at the time of the incident, Interior Minister Jawad Al-Bolani said.

Some of the guards now work for other security firms in Iraq, while others work for a Blackwater subsidiary, Al-Bolani said. He said all “concerned parties” were notified of the order three days ago and now have four days left before they must leave.

Blackwater security contractors were protecting US diplomats when the guards opened fire in Nisoor Square, a busy Baghdad intersection, on Sept. 16, 2007. Seventeen people were killed, including women and children, in a shooting that inflamed anti-American sentiment in Iraq.

“We want to turn the page,” Al-Bolani said. “It was a painful experience, and we would like to go forward.”

Backlash from the Blackwater shooting has been felt hardest by private security contractors, who provide protection for diplomats, journalists and aid workers.

Iraqi security forces have routinely stopped security details at checkpoints to conduct searches and question guards.

Security guards will be required within the next 10 days to register their weapons with the Ministry of Interior, Al-Bolani said. Failure to do so could result in arrest, he added.

Based in Moyock, North Carolina, Blackwater is now known as Xe Services, a name change that happened after six of the security firm’s guards were charged in the Nisoor Square shooting. At the time, Blackwater was the largest of the State Department’s three security contractors working in Iraq.

Xe Services said the company had no employees currently in Iraq, including with its subsidiary, Presidential Airways.

“Xe does not have one, single person in Iraq,” said Xe spokeswoman Stacy DeLuke.

The US Embassy in Baghdad declined comment.

The Blackwater guards involved in the incident said they were ambushed, but US prosecutors and many Iraqis said they let loose an unprovoked attack on civilians using machine guns and grenades.

One of the accused guards pleaded guilty in the case, but a federal judge in Washington threw out charges against the other five in December, ruling that the Justice Department for mishandling the evidence.

The legal ruling infuriated Iraqis and Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki vowed to seek punishment for the guards.

Last month, US Vice President Joe Biden flew to Baghdad to assure Iraqis the Obama administration to appeal the case and bring the guards back to trial.

The shooting further strained relations between the United States and Iraq, leading the parliament in Baghdad to seek new laws that would clear the way for foreign contractors to be prosecuted in Iraqi courts. The US government rejected those demands in the Blackwater case.

In January 2009, the State Department informed Blackwater that it would not renew its contracts to provide security for US diplomats in Iraq because of the Iraqi government’s refusal to grant it an operating license.

But last September, the State Department said it temporarily extended a contract with Blackwater subsidiary Presidential Airways to provide air support for US diplomats. It has since ended its contracts with Xe, and DynCorp International took over air services protection for US diplomats from Presidential Airways on Jan. 3.

The State Department said that was its last contract with Xe or its subsidiaries in Iraq.

The Justice Department now is investigating whether Blackwater tried to bribe Iraqi officials with $1 million to allow the company to keep working there after the Baghdad shooting, according to US officials close to the probe.

Elsewhere in Iraq, attackers bombed an oil pipeline north of Baghdad, cutting production in half at a refinery in the capital, the Oil Ministry said Wednesday.

There were no injuries in Tuesday night’s bombing in Rashidiya, just north of Baghdad.

Production at the Baghdad refinery was cut from 140,000 barrels per day to 70,000, said Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad.

The pipeline runs from oil fields in northern Kirkuk province to Baghdad. It has been the target of attacks for years, and has been bombed multiple times since 2004.

gr8 they will all be coming to pak and afghanistan now to help look after American security
Washington, DC – It took a drawn-out and complicated legal process for four employees of a private United States security firm to be convicted in the September 2007 killings of 14 Iraqi citizens in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

US prosecutors said the heavily armed Blackwater contractors used sniper weapons, machine guns and grenade launchers to indiscriminately fire at civilians in the crowded traffic circle, causing massive carnage and the killing of two children.

All four men, who are US army veterans, were sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

But in an instant, US President Donald Trump undid those measures when he pardoned Nicholas Slatten, Paul Alvin Slough, Evan Shawn Liberty and Dustin Laurent Heard earlier this week, in a move described by lawyers and human rights defenders as a miscarriage of justice.

“This pardon is an insult to justice and an insult to the victims who waited so many years to see some measure of justice,” Sarah Holewinski, Washington director at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera.

After the years-long legal process that included re-trials, Slatten was sentenced in 2019 to life in prison without parole for the murder of Ahmed Haithem Ahmed al-Rubia’y, a 19-year-old medical student who was driving his mother to an appointment when he was killed.

The three other Blackwater contractors were convicted of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and other charges in a 2014 trial. After an appeal and resentencing, they were each given between 12- and 15-year prison terms.

The killings, which took place as the Blackwater employees escorted a US convoy of vehicles in the Iraqi capital, prompted an international outcry and raised questions about the ethics of using private security contractors in US wars abroad.

Holewinski said two boys below age 12 were among the victims in Nisour Square that day.

“When the US Justice Department prosecuted these men, we saw the rule of law at work. Now Trump’s contempt for the rule of law is on full display,” she said.

Lengthy court proceedings

Lawyers representing the victims say more than 30 people travelled from Iraq to the US to testify in the criminal proceedings against the Blackwater contractors.

They recounted the horrors that took place that day 13 years ago, when 17 Iraqis were killed and at least 30 people were injured in what they called a massacre. The FBI charged the men with 14 deaths that they determined violated the use of deadly force.

In court, the contractors’ defence teams argued the men opened fire after being ambushed by armed fighters.

Blackwater, now renamed Academi, was founded by Erik Prince, a staunch Trump ally and the brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. It was one of several private military firms hired to assist the US army in Iraq following its 2003 invasion and occupation of the country.

Citing an internal Department of Defense census, the Brookings Institution said almost 160,000 US private contractors were employed by numerous firms operating in Iraq in 2007 – nearly as many as the total number of US soldiers stationed there at the time.

Lawyers say more than 30 people travelled from Iraq to the United States to testify in the criminal proceedings against the Blackwater employees [File: Atef Hassan/Reuters]“These veterans were working in Iraq in 2007 as security contractors responsible for securing the safety of United States personnel,” Trump said in his official clemency statement on Tuesday, about the Blackwater employees.
“When the convoy attempted to establish a blockade outside the ‘Green Zone,’ the situation turned violent, which resulted in the unfortunate deaths and injuries of Iraqi civilians,” the US president said.

Paul Dickinson, a litigation lawyer who represented six victims and their families in a civil lawsuit which was settled out of court in 2010, said the pardons are “a slap in the face” for the victims.

“Up until two days ago we had done the right thing for the people in Iraq who were victims of these shootings,” Dickinson told Al Jazeera.

“All the time and effort that the FBI and the federal prosecutors put into this has been wiped out,” he said.

“These victims have been slapped in the face because the United States government told them that we were going to fight for them, that we were going to hold people accountable for the crimes that they committed.”

Dickinson said Blackwater contractors routinely did not follow the rules of engagement in Iraq, shooting indiscriminately into cars and buildings and frequently disrespecting locals. For many Iraqis, it was difficult to differentiate between the US army and private contractors.

Ali al-Bayati, a member of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission, said the pardons are hurtful to the Iraqi victims who believed in the US justice system and have undermined the US’s standing in a protracted conflict.

“The world looks to the United States as a superpower and a defender of democracy and human rights,” al-Bayati told Al Jazeera.

“The president of the United States has used his authority and power in a wrongful way,” he said, adding that the pardons “dealt justice a blow” and harmed “the reputation of the United States” both in Iraq and abroad.

Trump’s Blackwater decision is part of a string of pardons of allies and loyalists issued during his final weeks in office. In the past week, he has pardoned nearly 50 people.

Al-Bayati said he hopes US President-elect Joe Biden, who will be inaugurated on January 20, would reverse the pardons of the Blackwater contractors.

“We hope that the incoming president will change the behaviour of the United States in front of the international community and Iraq, because these actions have deeply hurt Iraq,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Blackwater pardons continue to reverberate among civil and human rights advocates in the US, who say they illustrate Trump’s disregard for the rule of law.

“President Trump’s decision to pardon four mass murderers shows just how little respect he has for both our legal system and the sanctity of human life, especially the lives of Muslims and people of color,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a statement.

“These Blackwater mercenaries were convicted of perpetrating one of the most infamous war crimes of the American occupation of Iraq,” Awad said. “Pardoning them is an unconscionable act of moral insanity.”

Trump has screwed up badly with these pardons. Democrats now have a reason to do the same.
Trump has screwed up badly with these pardons. Democrats now have a reason to do the same.

Both parties are the same when it comes to shedding blood overseas. Not even a fool now believes the US care about the people of the countries they invade for their looting and plundering.
US President Donald Trump’s pardons of four Blackwater contractors convicted of killing civilians in a 2007 Baghdad massacre is a violation of United States obligations under international law, UN experts said on Wednesday.

“The Geneva Conventions oblige states to hold war criminals accountable for their crimes, even when they act as private security contractors,” Jelena Aparac, head of the United Nations working group on the use of mercenaries, said in a statement.

“These pardons violate US obligations under international law and more broadly undermine humanitarian law and human rights at a global level,” she said.

“Ensuring accountability for such crimes is fundamental to humanity and to the community of nations.”

Trump granted pardons to the guards on December 22 among a slew of other controversial pardons before he leaves office next month.

The four were convicted of opening fire in Baghdad’s crowded Nisour Square on September 16, 2007, in a bloody episode that caused an international scandal and heightened resentment of the American presence.

The shooting killed at least 14 Iraqi civilians and wounded 17 while perpetuating the image of US security contractors run amok.

The Blackwater guards said they acted in self-defence in response to rebel fire.

“Pardoning the Blackwater contractors is an affront to justice and to the victims of the Nisour Square massacre and their families,” Aparac added.

The working group, consisting of five independent experts who are appointed by the UN but who do not speak on behalf of the body, warned on Wednesday that countries have an obligation to hold convicted war criminals to account.

“Pardons, amnesties, or any other forms of exculpation for war crimes open doors to future abuses when states contract private military and security companies for inherent state functions,” the statement said.

The working group voiced deep concern at the practice of permitting private security contractors to “operate with impunity in armed conflicts”.

This, they warned, could encourage countries to “circumvent their obligations under humanitarian law by increasingly outsourcing core military operations to the private sector”.