Blackwater, since sold and renamed Academi, is a private military contractor outfit headed at the time by Erik Prince, brother to Trump's education secretary, Betsy DeVos. The Nisour Square massacre marked a low point in U.S.-Iraqi relations after the 2003 U.S. invasion, and federal prosecutors spent years bringing the four Blackwater guards — Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard — to justice.
After a federal judge in 2009 dismissed the first murder and manslaughter convictions of the Blackwater contractors, ruling the evidence was tainted, then-Vice President Joe Biden said at a press conference in Baghdad that the men had not been acquitted and the U.S. would appeal the decision. "In subsequent years, as the case continued, the contractors became known in conservative media as the 'Biden Four,'" The Washington Post reports. Slatten was eventually sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder, while the other three were convicted of manslaughter and given sentences of 12 to 15 years.
"Campaigns urging that the four receive presidential pardons began in earnest last year, most arguing that the men were veterans still in engaged in quasi military duties," the Post reports, noting that Trump has already pardoned two Army officers convicted or awaiting trial on murder charges for shooting Afghan civilians. In a 2009 column at Fox News, Duncan Hunter — still in Congress — called "the Biden Four" brave "political pawns" who were "sent to prison for doing their jobs."
Trump ‘killed justice’ with pardon of ‘war criminals’: Twitter erupts with disgust as Blackwater contractors walk free
Donald Trump’s decision to pardon four Blackwater contractors involved in the 2007 slaughter of Iraqi civilians was met with a tsunami of anger and resentment online from people calling it a travesty of justice.
President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday evening that he is issuing 15 full pardons and commuting the punishments of five convicts to time served. Four of the people given clemency were former employees of the infamous private military company Blackwater.
They were serving lengthy prison terms, including a life sentence in one case, for the Nisour Square massacre, one of the most notorious episodes in the US’ military engagement in Iraq.
Seventeen Iraqi civilians, including one child, were killed in the crowded Baghdad square in September 2007, after the US contractors opened fire on people with machine guns, sniper rifles, and grenade launchers. The investigation concluded that at least 14 of them were killed without any reason. The unprovoked attack was carried out by Blackwater guards who were escorting a US Embassy convoy and allegedly thought they had been ambushed.
After a protracted legal process, four people were sentenced to various prison terms. Nicholas Slatten, who was accused of opening fire first and triggering the attack on civilians, received a life sentence.
The news that all four convicts will now walk free, their punishments considered enough, was met with much anger, as public figures and ordinary commenters lashed out at Trump’s decision. Glenn Kirschner, a former US Army prosecutor who is now a legal analyst with MSNBC, said the president “killed justice” with his pardons.
Mark Hertling, a retired general who was involved in the 2007-08 troop surge, called the move “the most egregious and disgusting” of Trump’s actions. Politician Richard Ojeda, a retired mayor, said Blackwater contractors in Iraq were a bunch of “cowboys” who “caused trouble for us, active duty troops.”
Representative Ilhan Omar called the pardoned contractors “mercenaries” and “war criminals,” whose release “will leave a dark mark on the history of presidential pardons.”
Many commenters posted reminders of who the victims of the massacre were.
Supporters of the former contractors had been arguing that the men had been excessively punished and that their prosecution was tainted. “Paul Slough and his colleagues didn’t deserve to spend one minute in prison,” Brian Heberlig, a lawyer for one of the four pardoned defendants, said of the news. “I am overwhelmed with emotion at this fantastic news.”
In 2007, Blackwater was headed by Eric Prince, the brother of Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. He resigned and divested from the firm after the scandal over the massacre erupted. The company itself went through a series of re-brandings. Last year, Prince lobbied the Trump administration to replace US troops in Afghanistan with thousands of mercenaries.
Roger Stone, Manafort and Jared Kushner’s father included in Trump’s second wave of pardons
US President Donald Trump has granted pardons to former campaign manager Paul Manafort, political operative Roger Stone and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s father, as part of 26 clemencies ahead of Christmas holidays.
Manafort managed Trump’s campaign in the summer of 2016, but resigned after media reports of his lobbying work in Ukraine, based on the infamous “black ledger” leaked by Kiev. In 2019, he was sentenced to 90 months in prison in two federal cases brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller under the aegis of the ‘Russiagate’ probe – neither of which had anything to do with the election, but were based on his alleged tax evasion and money laundering from the lobbying operation.
Stone too was caught up in ‘Russiagate,’ with Mueller infamously sending a tactical team to arrest him in a pre-dawn raid, with CNN cameras present. His sentences for obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and making false statements to Congress – a total of 40 months – were already commuted by Trump in July. ALSO ON RT.COMBlackwater ‘war criminals,’ Russiagate ‘collateral victims’ & Congress ‘crooks’ among 15 pardons announced by Trump
Charles Kushner, the father of Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior adviser Jared, was not a victim of ‘Russiagate.’ He was convicted of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering back in 2005, serving a 2-year sentence under a plea deal with then-US attorney Chris Christie, later governor of New Jersey. His illegal donations were to Democrats.
Kushner’s son Jared married Trump’s daughter Ivanka, another White House adviser, in 2009.
On Tuesday, Trump issued 15 pardons and five commutations, including to several former Republican lawmakers, four Blackwater mercenaries convicted of killing civilians in Iraq, and two people convicted of process crimes during the Russiagate investigations, George Papadopoulos and Alex Van Der Zwaan. ALSO ON RT.COMTrump ‘killed justice’ with pardon of ‘war criminals’: Twitter erupts with disgust as Blackwater contractors walk free
Among his other pardons on Wednesday was Margaret Hunter, wife of former California Congressman Duncan Hunter – pardoned Tuesday – who pleaded guilty to diverting campaign funds to personal use, along with her husband.
Another former member of Congress pardoned on Wednesday, Mark Siljander, had pleaded guilty in 2010 to acting as an unregistered foreign agent, after taking a donation from the Islamic American Relief Agency.
The rest of the list doesn’t appear to be political, focusing on former police officers, local officials and people harshly sentenced for first-time drug offenses, in line with Trump’s 2018 First Step Act penal reform.
WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden were conspicuously absent, despite rampant speculation and a growing social media campaign for Trump to pardon both.
‘We’ll give him protection’: Mexican president promises asylum for Julian Assange
Mexico’s president has offered asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, hours after a British judge refused to extradite Assange to the US to face espionage charges. “Assange is a journalist and deserves a chance, I am in favor of pardoning him,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters on Monday, saying “we'll give him protection.”
“Our tradition is protection,” Obrador added. ALSO ON RT.COMAssange WON’T be extradited to US on spying charges in shock decision at London’s Old Bailey
Earlier on Monday, Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused to extradite Assange to the US, where he has been charged with 18 counts of conspiring to hack US government computers, and with the publication of confidential military records. Baraitser did not take issue with the charges against Assange, but found that extradition would be oppressive, given Assange's mental health, and would leave the publisher at risk of suicide.
The US is expected to appeal the ruling, and Assange is still being held in London’s Belmarsh Prison pending a bail hearing on Wednesday. His supporters have lobbied US President Donald Trump to grant him a pardon, but Trump has not yet indicated that he will.
Assange has already lived much of the past decade in asylum, having been sheltered by Ecuador inside its embassy in London between 2012 and 2019. However, a change in Ecuador’s political leadership saw right-winger Lenin Moreno assume power in 2017 and, shortly after that, claim that Assange had violated the conditions of his asylum. He was dragged out of the embassy by British police in April 2019. ALSO ON RT.COMBlocking Assange’s extradition to the US is the right decision… but it’s been made for the wrong reason
Were Assange to take Lopez Obrador up on his offer, he would likely have to weigh the president’s promise of protection against the fact that Obrador could be voted out of office in 2024, when his six-year term concludes.
Since taking office, Lopez Obrador has pursued an idiosyncratic foreign policy. On one hand, the left-wing president sheltered Bolivian President Evo Morales following a right-wing coup in 2019 and refused to follow the lead of the US and its allies in Latin America and recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president last year.
On the other hand, Lopez Obrador has been largely supportive of US President Donald Trump’s administration. The Mexican leader tightened up security at his southern border when Trump railed against Central American migrant “caravans” entering the US via Mexico, and was repaid by Trump during negotiations with OPEC last year, when the US President intervened to help Mexico avoid cuts to oil production.