The UN Human Rights Office has voiced deep concern over US President Donald Trump’s decision to pardon four former American security contractors convicted of killing Iraqi civilians in the capital Baghdad in 2007.
“We are deeply concerned by the recent US presidential pardons for four security guards from the private military firm Blackwater who were convicted for killing 14 Iraqi civilians,” UN human rights spokesperson Marta Hurtado said in a statement on Wednesday.
“These four individuals were given sentences ranging from 12 years to life imprisonment, including on charges of first-degree murder,” she said. “Pardoning them contributes to impunity and has the effect of emboldening others to commit such crimes in the future.”
Trump on Tuesday pardoned the four guards – Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Nicholas Slatten – who were part of an armored convoy that opened fire indiscriminately on a crowd of unarmed people in Nisour Square in Baghdad.
In 2014, Slatten, who was the first to start shooting, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, while the other three were convicted of voluntary and attempted manslaughter and sentenced to 30 years in prison each.
Hurtado said victims of gross human rights violations have the right to see perpetrators serve punishments proportionate to the seriousness of their conduct, calling on Washington to uphold its obligations to ensure accountability for such crimes.
The Nisour Square massacre, at the time, infuriated the Iraqi people, and Trump’s pardons rubbed fresh salt into the wound of the Iraqis, who have suffered tremendously in the aftermath of the US invasion of their land in 2003 and the American forces’ widespread atrocities in their country.
Hassan Jaber Salman, a lawyer who survived the Nisour Square massacre with his son, said during the 2014 trial that the American forces shot “anything that moved” in the square. “Women, children, young people, they shot everyone,” he said.
Speaking to CNN in the wake of the pardons, Salman called Trump’s decision shocking, disappointing and “abusive to the rights of the victims.”
“The infamous Blackwater company killed Iraqi citizens at Nisour Square. Today we heard they were released upon personal order by President Trump, as if they don’t care for the spilled Iraqi blood,” Saleh Abed, a Baghdad resident, told the AFP news agency.
Jasim Mohammed Al-Nasrawi, a police officer who also survived the massacre, told Trump “not to pardon or release the perpetrators. They are terrorists.”
“I am still not a hundred percent recovered from my head wound, which [was] sustained in the gunfire by Blackwater guards in 2007, and have not been completely compensated for the attack. I will not waive my right to this case, I am not giving up,” Al-Nasrawi told CNN.
'Blood cheaper than water'
A former classmate of a medical student who was killed in the massacre called the pardons “an utter outrage.”
“As far as they are concerned, our blood is cheaper than water and our demands for justice and accountability are merely a nuisance,” the classmate told AFP, requesting anonymity.
Trump’s move comes at a time when anti-American sentiments are very strong in Iraq. Earlier this year, the US president ordered strikes near Baghdad that killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), and Iran’s top commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani – two very popular figures in the Iraqi society.
The assassinations have been followed by recurring attacks against US positions, including its embassy in Iraq. The latest attack occurred on Sunday night, when at least three Katyusha rockets landed within the highly fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, close to the US embassy.