Nisour Square in 2010, with a memorial on the left. courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Trump’s pardons of Blackwater mercenaries reveal unaccountability

Trump’s lame duck period was surprisingly calm policy-wise, with no large disruptions to the status quo of his administration. The now-ousted president did, however, unleash a series of final pardons for various Americans. Much of the news coverage around these pardons have focused on figures close to the Trump administration like Roger Stone and Stephen Bannon. However, one group of pardon recipients seemed to slip out of the news quite quickly: the perpetrators of the Nisour Square Massacre.

The Nisour Square Massacre was a 2007 incident in Iraq led by several mercenaries employed by Blackwater Security Consulting. A four-truck convoy was attempting to clear traffic out of the Square when a car failed to stop at the directions of the guards. The mercenaries then open-fired on the driver, killing him instantly. The car continued to creep forward, and the shooting continued, killing the dead driver’s mother. Blackwater continued shooting at everyone in sight, killing 17 and wounding 20, including multiple children. An FBI evidence response team deployed to Iraq was unable to find forensic evidence of the Blackwater team receiving any fire during the incident.

Several convictions resulted from the following trials, including a life sentence given to Nicholas Slatten, the initial shooter, for first-degree murder. Three others were given lengthy sentences for voluntary manslaughter. All four convictions were pardoned by Trump on Dec. 22. The administration offered that one of Iraqi investigators had “ties to insurgent groups” as a reason for the pardon. More information on this investigator isn’t given, and it seems unlikely that the actual events in question are different than they previously appeared. The administration is just giving cover for these completely baseless exonerations.

The pardons should, of course, be condemned by anyone with any regard for human rights. The American government should have no right to be the arbitrator of crimes committed in a foreign country. Even if America did have this right, the massacre was a monstrously ravaging crime and its perpetrators deserve full accountability for their actions. However, we shouldn’t view it in a vacuum; these four guards were far from the only American murderers in Iraq.

The incident and its conclusions are a sobering reminder of how little accountability there is for America’s actions abroad. Blackwater mercenaries weren’t held accountable to the law of Iraq; they could only be tried for crimes by the American justice system. Mercenary groups like Blackwater went against a UN convention and a protocol of the Geneva Conventions, but neither were signed by the US. About 2,500 American troops still control bases in Iraq, despite a unanimously passed resolution in the Iraqi Council of Representatives to expel all foreign troops a year ago.

The motivations for these actions, at all levels, can be traced profit. The individual mercenaries were being paid about $800 per day of work. Blackwater itself was the recipient of highly lucrative government contracts and is now controlled by Leon Black, worth over $8 billion. The planners of the Iraq War itself were always focused on profiteering as well, with Vice President Dick Cheney securing the oil interests in the region for his previous company Haliburton.

America’s actions also reflect its general philosophy of imperialism that goes deeper than just greed. The media’s unabashed support for the Iraq War, from both liberal and conservative outlets, came without any direct promise of profit. The American people, cajoled by lies from politicians and the intelligence community, viewed themselves as moral warriors crushing weak, democracy-hating Saddam. Average citizens’ enthusiasm came from finding something to feel proud of in the face of declining prosperity in their country.

As Biden’s Presidential term begins, a shift away from this violent profiteering and jingoistic outlook seems unlikely. Biden’s Secretary of Defense, General Lloyd Austin, helped lead the invasion of Iraq and later worked for defense contractor Raytheon Technologies. Biden has already hinted at ramping up presence in Iraq in response to terror attacks — attacks by groups, of course, that only came to prominence after American intervention. Military or mercenary, Republican or Democrat, imperialism always remains hegemonically unquestioned in America.

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Post Author: Justin Klopfer