By Darya Dahi
New York City, New York
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced a string of pardons ranging from Republican allies to two men who pleaded guilty in Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The pardons of Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Charles Kushner, however, largely overshadowed the pardons granted to four military contractors working for Blackwater, now known as Academi, a private American security firm. These contractors, Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, were convicted six years ago for committing war crimes in Iraq. On September 16, 2007, the Blackwater mercenaries indiscriminately fired live ammunition and propelled grenades into Baghdad’s Nisour Square, killing fourteen unarmed Iraqi civilians, including nine- and eleven-year-old children, and injuring seventeen others. When granting clemency to the four contractors, Trump praised them for “a long history of service to the nation.”
Overlooked is the organization by which the four mercenaries were employed. Blackwater was founded by Erik Prince, a staunch Trump ally whose sister is Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. This detail adds to Trump’s years-long pattern of granting pardons and commutations to petitioners who have a personal tie to him or supported his political agenda.
Trump’s pardons of the Blackwater mercenaries have been met with international condemnation. In a statement, U.N. Human Rights Office spokesperson Marta Hurtado remarked that the organization is “deeply concerned” by the Blackwater pardons. The ACLU also said that Trump’s decisions “insult the memory of Iraqi victims and further degrade the office.”
The recent pardons have faced even more backlash as Brandon Bernard, a 40-year-old death row inmate convicted of murder when he was a teenager, was executed just two weeks before, even after many politicians, celebrities and news organizations advocated for a commutation. His death made him the youngest offender executed by the federal government in nearly seven decades.
This poses the question: Do white American lives matter more than those of others to Trump?
The answer is undoubtedly, yes. If not proven by his tweets and behavior over the past summer in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, then by these recent actions.
Trump’s decision to pardon the four war criminals has set a precedent that gives future mercenaries a U.S.-issued license to kill. It has also sent the message that the forever war’s victims possess no basic human rights. And the impropriety of Trump praising shameless criminals and murderers while ignoring pleas to help a Black man who was placed on death row for a crime he participated in as a teenager is staggering, but not even slightly surprising. For a self-described “law and order president,” Trump makes decisions that do not align with his alleged goals. The trials and convictions of the four Blackwater contractors are some of the remarkable accomplishments of the U.S. attorney’s office, which had effectively brought justice to the Iraqi victims at Nisour square. But on Wednesday, Trump decimated that justice. The pardons granted to the Blackwater individuals will commit lasting damage to the perception of U.S. integrity in the Middle East and around the globe, if not further wound Trump’s already woeful legacy.