Four Pardons: The Story of War, Murder, Greed And The Dismantling of American Justice
Updated: Jan 6
There are many instances where the American justice system is flawed. Many of our fellow citizens have been wrongly accused or been given sentences that are disproportionate for the crime which they have been convicted for. There are thousands and thousands of people in our penitentiary system for minor drug offences such as selling marijuana. The same drugs these folks got locked up for are now being sold legally across the country by corporations and businesses funded by venture capitalists and other Wall Street firms.
Despite the flaws that exist and the many instances of systemic racism that have been built into our judicial system, the American Justice System is one of the best and fairest in the world. Though public perception interferes all the time, in the eyes of the law, you are innocent until proven guilty and you have a right to trial by jury no matter who you are, who you love, what you believe and what you look like. That is the foundation American Justice is founded upon and as unperfect as it can be, in the United States, we can work everyday making sure it gets fairer for everyone.
The American Justice System worked when it convicted four Blackwater mercenaries of slaughtering 14 innocent Iraqi citizens, some of whom were children, on September 16, 2007. It took several years and many twists and turns under three different Presidential administrations, but the American Justice system prevailed and showed the world America stands for justice.
It showed that heinous war crimes would be convicted to the fullest extent of the law. It showed that the slaughter of innocent civilians and children on foreign lands committed by mercenaries contracted by the US State Department would not go unpunished.
And on December 22, 2020 when the Trump administration pardoned Nick Slatten, Paul A. Slough, Evan S. Liberty and Dustin L. Heard, the four Blackwater mercenaries that were convicted in the American Justice system, it showed the world that maybe American justice can be circumvented if your former boss, the founder of Blackwater, is the brother of the current Secretary of Education.
This is the story of how innocent Iraqi civilians were gunned down, how the American Justice system worked and how that same justice system was dismantled.
What is Blackwater?
Blackwater was a private security company founded by Erik Prince. Erik was a former NAVY Seal who started the company in 1997. He is the brother of the current Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos.
Due to many public relation disasters, the company is now known as Academi.
Over the course of 20+ years, the company has received more than $2 billion worth of defense contracts from the US Government. A lot of their work comes from protecting state department officials overseas, particularly in warzones.
There are so many officials in these areas, it's impossible to get the proper protection from US Government sources, such as the military. Therefore, the US Government contracts these security operations to private companies such as Blackwater, Most of the security personnel who work for Blackwater are former special ops/military brass.
In 2007, Blackwater had approximately 1,000 guards in Iraq to help protect State Department officials. The contract they were awarded at the time in Iraq was approximately $1 billion.
What happened on September 16, 2007?
Since the Iraq war began, the usage of private contracted mercenaries has been extremely controversial. These private companies have made billions of dollars in the war torn region on the American tax payers dime. At the same time, they don't follow the same orders nor are they under the command of US Military forces.
On September 16, 2007, Blackwater guards were escorting a US Embassy Convoy in Nisour Square, Baghdad, Iraq when they shot and killed 17 Iraqi's. As the Blackwater guards began making a pathway for the convoy to pass through, according to Blackwater, a car was coming towards them that did not stop at a checkpoint. The car was ordered to stop and warning shots were fired. However, the car did not stop and the guards began shooting at it, fearing there was a car bomb.
With the war in Iraq raging on at this point, it was not out of the ordinary to think a car ordered to stop that didn't stop, potentially was a car bomb.
However, what occurred after was indiscriminate shooting by the Blackwater guards at the other cars in Nisour Square. By the time the chaos had ended, 17 Iraqi's were killed.
According to the FBI, 14 of the 17 Iraqi's that were killed were unjustified killings. The 3 that were justified according to the FBI was a woman and her grown son who were in the car that didn't stop (we don't know why they didn't stop but there was never any weapons found) and an Iraqi civilian who had gone to the car to see why it wasn't stopping.
According to Blackwater, some of the guards began shooting at the other cars and civilians because they thought they were getting fired upon. However, investigations by the US Military, State Department and FBI all concluded the guards were NOT under attack and were not under imminent danger.
But the most damning piece of evidence that proved there was no imminent danger to the convoy and Blackwater guards was that there were SEVERAL BLACKWATER GUARDS who testified they were not under any danger and that the shootings were unjustified. One even testified that he had to put a gun to one of the Blackwater guards heads to stop him from shooting into the crowd.
The testimonies that claim Blackwater guards were under no imminent threat
Mark Mealy, Adam Frost and Matthew Murphy were three members of the Blackwater convoy that day, code-named Raven 23, who testified they were not under immediate threat.
Adam Frost testified he was "upset because he had seen Iraqi's shot although they posed no threats". Mark Mealy testified and identified four Blackwater guards who indiscriminately shot into the crowd of Iraqi's. Matthew Murphy testified and said he saw "unarmed civilians shot and killed who were clearly no threat to anyone by his fellow Raven 23 members".
The FBI conducted one of the most expensive and largest investigations to find out what happened in Baghdad that day. They concluded 14 of the 17 deaths were without cause.
The US Military conducted their investigation and came to the conclusion that the Blackwater guards shot at civilians without provocation and used excessive force.
How the US Government screwed up
Understandably, the Iraqi government was upset and wanted justice. They wanted to persecute those involved. However, under the security agreement the US government had with the Iraqi government, the Iraqi's had no jurisdiction over the US Military forces and private contractors. The US Government assured the Iraqi government they would get to the bottom of what happened and would prosecute those who were found of any wrong doing.
What happened in the hours and days after the incident was the US State Department tried to find out what happened. They interviewed and collected testimony from the Blackwater guards, including those who testified that they were under no imminent threat and that some of their fellow guards were shooting innocent civilians. The State Department offered "limited-use immunity".
The problem was, the State Department HAS NO AUTHORITY TO PROVIDE "LIMITED-USE IMMUNITY". Only the Justice Department can provide that and whoever is prosecuting the case.
In December 2008, under a Republican administration, the federal government charged five Blackwater employees with manslaughter charges. A sixth guard (Jeremy Ridgeway) pled guilty to manslaughter. In return, he got a shorter sentence for pleading guilty and testifying against the other five.
But, one year later, in December of 2009, a district court judge, Ricardo Urbina, dismissed all the charges. This was because the entire case the government had built was based on the testimonies the guards gave the State Department after the incident occurred. But the testimonies were given when the Blackwater guards thought they had 'limited immunity". But since the State Department doesn't have that authority, they actually didn't have immunity and their testimony incriminated themselves which violated their 5th amendment rights.
However, in 2011, the Court of Appeals stated Judge Urbina's dismissal was wrong and that they should filter out the improper evidence from the permissible evidence.
What happened when the case finally went to court?
In 2014, four Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour massacre were tried in court. One of the guards previously charged in 2008 had his case dismissed.
Nick Slatten was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, Paul A. Slough, Evan S. Liberty and Dustin L. Heard were found guilty of at least three counts of voluntary manslaughter and using a machine gun to commit violent crimes. The jury had concluded the shooting was a criminal act and NOT an act during war. Those three were sentenced to 30 years in prison.
However, in 2017, the US Court of Appeals reversed Nick Slatten's sentence and ordered a re-trial and ordered the other three to be re-sentenced.
In 2019, Nick Slatten was once again found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison while the others had their sentences reduced from 30 years to between 12-15 years.
The United States government assured the Iraqi government and the world it would bring justice for those innocent lives lost on September `6, 2007 in Nisour Square.
And the American Justice system did just that. The system worked.
But on the night of December 22, 2020, the pardons granted by the Trump administration was a slap in the face to the victims in Nisour Square, their families, the Iraqi people, the American justice system and our men and women who wear their uniform proudly.
What happened in Nisour Square was a tragedy and a war crime that was investigated thoroughly by the US military, the State Department and the FBI. All three came to the conclusion the Blackwater guards were at fault and a terrible violent crime had been committed. Blackwater guards who were on that same Raven 23 convoy testified what happened was unnecessary, excessive and criminal.
There is no justifiable reason why these four received a pardon. What happened was inhumane. Two children, ages 9 and 11 were killed. They did nothing wrong. These are not just statistics, these are people. These were kids.
Betsy Devos is the current Secretary of Education and the sister of Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater. One can't help but think the only reason why these men were given pardons was because of the connections in Washington.
It took years to get justice but only seconds for it to be dismantled.
The article will end with this. A letter sent to Fatima Hafidh Abid al - Razq from General Raymond Odierno, the former US Army commander in Iraq. Ms. Fatima was the mother of Ali Kinani, who was 9 and killed by one of the Blackwater guards. She received a condolence payment from the US Government.
She donated half of it to wounded US Soldiers.