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Former Blackwater security guard Nicholas Slatten leaves federal court on June 11, 2014. (Photo: Cliff Owen/AP file)

UN Experts Condemn Trump's Pardon of Blackwater Contractors as 'Affront to Justice'

"These pardons violate U.S. obligations under international law and more broadly undermine humanitarian law and human rights at a global level."

Julia Conley, staff writer

A group of United Nations experts on the use of mercenaries said Wednesday that President Donald Trump committed an "affront to justice" last week when he pardoned four former Blackwater security contractors for the war crimes they were convicted of in 2015.

The Working Group on the use of mercenaries, part of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), issued a statement accusing the U.S. government of violating its "obligations under international law" by pardoning Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard.

Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder eight years after he fired the first shots into Nisour Square in Baghdad, killing a 19-year-old and setting off an onslaught that left 14 Iraqi civilians dead. Slough, Liberty, and Heard were convicted of voluntary and attempted manslaughter for their roles in the massacre. 

The four convicted war criminals were released from prison after being pardoned by Trump on December 22, in a move that the working group said would "open doors to future abuses when States contract private military and security companies for inherent state functions." 

"Pardoning the Blackwater contractors is an affront to justice and to the victims of the Nisour Square massacre and their families," said Jelena Aparac, chair-rapporteur of the working group. "The Geneva Conventions oblige States to hold war criminals accountable for their crimes, even when they act as private security contractors. These pardons violate U.S. obligations under international law and more broadly undermine humanitarian law and human rights at a global level."

With the pardons issued, working group member Dr. Sorcha MacLeod tweeted, the U.S. has failed "to ensure accountability for war crimes."

The working group called on all nations that are party to the Geneva Conventions to condemn Trump's pardon of the contractors, warning that "by permitting private security contractors to operate with impunity in armed conflicts, States will be encouraged to circumvent their obligations under humanitarian law by increasingly outsourcing core military operations to the private sector."

Nilz Melzer, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, wrote that the pardons oblige "all other States to prosecute these perpetrators under universal jurisdiction."

The working group's statement comes a week after a spokesperson for the OHCHR responded to the pardons by calling on the U.S. "to renew its commitment to fighting impunity for gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, as well as to uphold its obligations to ensure accountability for such crimes."

Also last week, former FBI special agent Thomas O'Connor, who investigated the Nisour Square massacre, denounced Trump's decision to pardon the former contractors, writing an exhaustive description at CNN of the evidence he reviewed in Baghdad, which showed no one had shot at the four Blackwater employees during the attack.

"A jury heard the evidence and found four Blackwater guards guilty of murder, manslaughter and weapons charges," wrote O'Connor. "The system worked and justice was brought to the deceased, the injured victims and their families. The families of those killed and wounded at Nisour Square will now watch those responsible for this tragedy go free thanks to a pardon by the President of the United States."

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