President Donald Trump late Tuesday unveiled a slate of pardons and commutations that includes four Blackwater military contractors jailed for massacring more than a dozen Iraqi civilians—including two children—in Baghdad in 2007.
Absent from Trump's wave of 15 pardons was Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who helped bring to light war crimes committed by the U.S. in Iraq and elsewhere.
"Trump could have pardoned whistleblowers Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. Instead he chose to pardon four Blackwater mercenaries who murdered 17 Iraqi civilians. Disgusting."
—Medea Benjamin, CodePink
Observers decried as "grotesque" Trump's full pardon of Blackwater guards Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard, and Nicholas Slatten and failure to pardon Assange as the publisher struggles to survive in a notorious British jail ahead of an expected extradition ruling on January 4. If extradited to the U.S., Assange could spend the rest of his life in prison for the "crime" of obtaining and publishing classified documents—an act of journalism.
In a statement accompanying the new pardons and commutations—a list that also included former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and former Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.)—the White House described the former Blackwater mercenaries as veterans with "a long history of service to the nation."
"While U.S. Army contractors convicted of massacring civilians in Iraq are pardoned, the man who exposed such crimes against humanity, Julian Assange, rots in Britain's Guantanamo," tweeted Yanis Varoufakis, a Greek economist and parliamentarian.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald also weighed in on Twitter:
This is a grotesque pardon: Blackwater contractors who indiscriminately shot into an Iraqi crowd, killing 14 (2 kids):https://t.co/L3qa52NuKc.
Meanwhile, 2 people who exposed war crimes rather than committied them - Snowden & Assange - wait to see if Trump can find the courage https://t.co/7GBBRu5Ooy
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) December 23, 2020
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As The Guardian reported Tuesday, Slough, Liberty, Heard, and Slatten "were part of an armored convoy that opened fire indiscriminately with machine-guns, grenade launcher, and a sniper on a crowd of unarmed people in a square in the Iraqi capital."
"The Nisour Square massacre was one of the lowest episodes of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq," The Guardian noted. "Slough, Liberty, and Heard were convicted on multiple charges of voluntary and attempted manslaughter in 2014, while Slatten, who was the first to start shooting, was convicted of first-degree murder. Slattern was sentenced to life and the others to 30 years in prison each."
This is what the four Blackwater mercenaries Trump just pardoned did in Iraq. A cold blooded massacre of men, women and children. https://t.co/QSBMoB8MQV
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) December 23, 2020
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of anti-war group CodePink, tweeted Tuesday that "Trump could have pardoned whistleblowers Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden."
"Instead he chose to pardon four Blackwater mercenaries who murdered 17 Iraqi civilians, including two boys [aged] eight and 11, in an unprovoked attack on a crowd of unarmed people," Benjamin wrote. "Disgusting."
In a statement Wednesday morning, CodePink said Trump's pardons continue "a long tradition of Americans evading accountability for their crimes in Iraq, from policymakers in the Bush administration who gave the orders to invade that country on the basis of lies to politicians like then-Senator Joe Biden who supported this decision to U.S. soldiers, bombers, and private mercenaries who committed reprehensible acts against the Iraqi people and paved the way for the creation of ISIS."
"This pardon gives the world just one more example of the disregard that the U.S. government has towards the lives of the Iraq people, whose country we destroyed," the group added.
This story has been updated to include a statement from CodePink.