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'No humanity': Trump pardons Blackwater war criminals who massacred Iraqis

Father of nine-year-old victim tells MEE it is difficult to comprehend president's decision, which he said compromises the rule of law in the US
A cartoon against US security firm Blackwater, which was barred from Iraq over the deadly 2007 shooting, is displayed at an exhibition in Karbala, central Iraq in 2011 (AFP)
By Ali Harb in Washington

Ali Kinani's life was cut short at nine years old in 2007, when Blackwater American security contractors opened fire without provocation in Baghdad's Nisour Square, killing 17 people.

Ali, who liked to be called Alawi, was in the back of his father's car on the way home after picking up his aunt and cousins, on what had appeared like a normal day until the shooting started in all directions.

Determined to bring the killers to justice, Ali's father Mohammed Kinani moved to the United States to follow the prosecution of the Blackwater employees.

'The blood of innocent Iraqis that was spilled in the Nisour Square is red blood that is no different than the blood of Americans'

- Husham al-Husainy, Iraqi-American imam

It took a decade of legal proceedings, trials, appeals, dropped charges and re-trials for four of the perpetrators to be convicted, with Nick Slatten - the main culprit - receiving a life sentence for first-degree murder.

On Tuesday, outgoing US President Donald Trump pardoned all four convicts.

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"No one is above the law is what we learned in America, but now there's someone above the law," Kinani told Middle East Eye, as he struggled for words upon learning of the pardon.

"I don't know how this is allowed. I don't think that America is built on such principles."

Kinani, who had moved to Michigan after the massacre and is currently visiting family in Iraq, said Trump's decision is "indescribable".

"It's a very bad situation. It's unfortunate," he said, letting out a deep sigh. "But there must be a way. If not in the earthly courts, then with God. God will not let them go."

Trump's pardons

Imam Husham al-Husainy, a Muslim cleric based in Dearborn, Michigan, said he thought of Ali's picture that hangs in Kinani's auto repair shop in Detroit when he heard the news of the pardon.

Husainy, who is friends with Kinani, said the pardon shows an "inhumane" lack of regard for the lives of Arabs and Muslims.

"The blood of innocent Iraqis that was spilled in the Nisour Square is red blood that is no different than the blood of Americans. These were humans," he told MEE.

The imam added that the White House's decision will erode the rule of law in the United States, affect Iraqi-US relations and alter Iraqis' perception of the United States.

"We want there to be peace between all people, but Donald Trump made a grave mistake," Hussainy said. "To please a few people here, he angered 40 million people in Iraq."

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The US Justice Department had been adamant on prosecuting the Nisour Square shooters, refusing to drop the case despite setbacks in its legal efforts and successful appeals by the defendants.

Presidential pardons are irreversible, meaning that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden cannot re-prosecute the Blackwater contractors.

On Tuesday, Trump also pardoned campaign associates who were convicted in the probe into Russian interference in US elections, three former Republican lawmakers who were found guilty of financial impropriety, and two Border Patrol agents who had shot an alleged drug dealer.

Trump has been brandishing his pardon powers liberally, and this was not the first time he pardoned war criminals.

Last year, he pardoned a US soldier who had killed an Iraqi detainee in 2008 as well as two service members who allegedly killed civilians in Afghanistan. 

Trump also pushed for reinstating the rank of Edward Gallagher in the elite Navy Seal force after he had been accused of war crimes, a decision that led to the removal of then-Navy Secretary Richard V Spencer, who opposed the president's handling of the matter in 2019.

'No humanity'

On Tuesday, the Arab American Institute said the pardons show that Trump does not value the lives of Arabs.

"Blackwater employees convicted of massacring Iraqi civilians," the group said in a tweet.

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"Border Patrol agents convicted of shooting an undocumented immigrant & then covering it up.

"All pardoned by Trump - another ex. of his disregard for certain human lives, including Arabs. No law, no order, no humanity."

Blackwater, now rebranded as Academi, was founded and led by Eric Prince, a Trump associate who is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The company and its founder maintain that its guards operated within the rules of engagement during the Nisour Square massacre after thinking they were being attacked.

Iraqi-American activist M Baqir Mohie El-Deen on Tuesday urged curbing the presidential powers to issue pardons without oversight.

"As Iraqis, we call on the American public to stop their government from committing travesties in Iraq. Laws can be changed," he told MEE. "America is all about checks and balances, and presidential pardons shouldn't be immune to them." 

Mohie El-Deen also stressed the need for revising the US military's relationship with mercenaries and private contractors.

"Americans owe this to the 17 Iraqis who were massacred ... on behalf of the American government in Baghdad's Nisour Square."

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