Although the lamest of lame ducks, Donald Trump still possesses the enormous power we entrusted him with four years ago.
One of the most awesome (and monarchical) powers the Constitution entrusts to the president is the ability to grant “reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States” to just about anyone.
While past presidents have pardoned controversial figures before, Trump is not disappointing low expectations by granting clemency to loyal sycophants, financial con artists like himself, and murderers.
Four of those murderers the president just allowed to walk free were responsible for a cold-blooded massacre on civilians tantamount to the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war.
Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard are four former mercenaries for the military contractor Blackwater, founded by Trump supporter Erik Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
All four were sentenced to prison for the 2007 attack in Iraqi’s Nisour Square that killed 14 and wounded 17.
On their way home, Ali’s father, Mohammed Hafedh Abdulrazzaq Kinani, the driver, recalls a traffic jam he assumed was just another U.S. military checkpoint, a common sight.
“One of the guards gestured toward us with his hands. This gesture means ‘stop.’ So we stopped. I and all the cars in front and behind me stopped. We followed their orders.
“At that point, I didn’t even know they were Blackwater. I didn’t know it was a security company. I thought it was some sort of American Army unit, or maybe a military police unit. In any case, we followed their orders.”
But a man in the vehicle next to them exclaimed, “I think someone was shot in the car in front of you!”
“It was then Mohammed watched in horror as Blackwater gunners, for no apparent reason, blew up a white Kia sedan in front of his eyes. Inside, Mohammed would later learn, were a young Iraqi medical student and his mother.”
Mohammad Kinani added:
“There was absolutely no shooting or any sign of danger for us or Blackwater. No one was in the slightest danger.
“Suddenly, in the flash of a second, they started shooting in all directions. And it wasn’t warning shots. They were shooting as if they were fighting in the field.
“By the time they stopped shooting, the car looked like a sieve. This is the only way to describe it, because it was truly riddled with bullets. They finished with the first car and turned their guns on us. It turned into the apocalypse.
“When one man tried to run, they shot him. He dropped dead on the spot. He was on the ground bleeding, and they were shooting nonstop. They shot like they were trying to kill everyone they could see. He sank into his own blood. And every minute, they would go back and shoot him again, and I could see his body shake with every bullet. He was dead, but his body shook with the bullets. He would shoot at someone else and then go back to shooting at this dead man.”
Kinani ordered his passengers to get down for cover, reporting:
“After they had killed everyone in sight, my sister and I kept still. I had her rest her head on my lap, and my body was on top of her. We would sneak to peek from under the dashboard. They continued shooting here and there, killing this and that one. Then it cleared. Nothing was moving on the street. Only the Blackwater men were moving. Then, they drove off.”
At first, it appeared as though Kinani and his family members were unscathed.
Until Kinani’s nephew delivered the news that Ali, nicknamed “Allawi,” was dead.
The Blackwater mercenaries were never supposed to have been there.
One of their team leaders requested permission to exit the protected Green Zone to help recover a US official other nearby contractors were guarding.
His request was denied.
They went anyway.
One of the FBI agents who subsequently investigated the killings, Thomas O’Connor, corroborated Mohammad Kinani’s account:
“Two Iraqi traffic officers stopped the traffic going toward the four armored vehicles. One of the first cars in that stopped traffic was a white KIA occupied by a woman and her son. The woman was a local doctor and the son, who was driving the car, was going to medical school to follow in his mother’s footsteps.
“A sniper [Nicholas Slatten] on the Raven 23 team placed his rifle out a porthole of the Bearcat armored vehicle and fired at the driver of the white KIA. The man was struck and killed by the bullet.
“When the shooting stopped and the Blackwater team began to move, Mohammed [Kinani] exited the driver door and opened a rear passenger door. Ali, who had been slumped against the door, fell into his father’s arms. Ali had been struck with a Blackwater round, which entered the rear driver side door and hit the boy in the head. As his father reached for his 9-year-old son, Ali’s brains fell out onto the street and onto his father’s feet.”
“The investigation was monumental. To put it all aside because Erik Prince is one of Trump’s cronies is a slap in the face to the U.S. legal system, a slap in the face to the Justice Department and the assurances it put in place to ensure these men had fair trials. And despite being the ‘law and order president,’ Trump has humiliated these families for obtaining justice for the crimes committed against them.”
Amidst the global fallout from the attack, which a U.S. military investigation concluded was unprovoked, came scrutiny over the use of private contractors with military authority but permitted to operate without the same official constraints.
The Iraqi government revoked Blackwater’s license, and Erik Prince changed the company’s name and sold it.
But then Donald Trump entered the White House.
Prince seized the opportunity to lobby Trump to “privatize” the war in Afghanistan by replacing U.S. troops with mercenaries.
Paul Dickinson said:
“Prince made millions by sending these men back to Iraq, but Blackwater made it harder for the soldiers to do their job. The sad fact is that they didn’t follow rules of engagement. They drove around in tan-colored Army vehicles without markings, and most Iraqi citizens didn’t know the difference until it was too late. Blackwater convoys that ran through town, shooting indiscriminately, made it more difficult for soldiers trying to do the right thing the right way.”
Dickinson made a point of indicating Mohammad Kinani is not some anti-American zealot, but someone who welcomed U.S. military presence that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, stating:
“Mohammed Kanani had greeted the U.S. soldiers in Baghdad. He welcomed the changes that were happening in his country, to get out from under Saddam Hussein’s oppressive and vindictive government.”
“The first day the American Army entered Baghdad, I handed out juice and candy in the street, to celebrate our liberation from Saddam.”
But that faith in American justice has been shattered.
In an ABC News interview last week, Kinani said:
“I don’t know what I did to Blackwater. The president of the United States, he is above the law. These are people who should stay in jail. I feel lost today. I feel as if something is up[side] down. I just remember every detail about what happened. It’s really hard to live with this and this really broke my heart.”
Sadly, this is not an aberration.
Last year, Trump reinstated the rank of former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, whom fellow SEALs called “freaking evil”, “toxic”, and “perfectly O.K. with killing anybody that was moving,” after being acquitted on a war crime charge of fatally stabbing a captured teenager.
Under the justification they should have “the confidence to fight” without legal ramifications, Trump also pardoned last year Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, both convicted of killing Afghans.
In 2001, after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, former President George W. Bush proclaimed terrorists hate us because “They hate our freedoms.“
But that’s reductive.
The late great comedian Dick Gregory once said:
“If democracy is so good, why do we have to go to other countries and try to jam it down their throats with a gun? Stay here and make democracy work. If it’s good you don’t have to force it on others, they’ll steal it.”
“They” don’t hate us because “they hate our freedoms.”
They hate us because we’re the ones bringing chaos to their lives.
Blackwater is a perfect example of “American exceptionalism” run amok.
It is an extra-governmental, paramilitary outfit put in a position of authority, holding the power of live and death for pure profit.
Who knows how much is going to change under Joe Biden.
Maybe not much.
But as long as we keep slogging up the same hill, we’ll always slide a little further back.
Image credit: Tasnimnews