A lawyer who represented the family of a child killed by U.S. government contractors during the Iraq War has described the decision by President Donald Trump to grant pardons to four of the men involved as “unconscionable.”
Nine-year-old Ali Kinani was among at least 14 people killed in and around Nisour Square, Baghdad, on 16 September, 2007, by Blackwater private security contractors who had been assigned to guard a U.S. diplomatic convoy.
Military veterans Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard were convicted in 2014 by a U.S. federal court of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and other charges and given sentences of between 12 and 15 years. Nicholas Slatten, who was the first to start shooting, was sentenced to life in prison.
But on Tuesday, the White House announced in a statement that Trump had pardoned the four in a move it said was “broadly supported by the public,” adding that the men “have a long history of service to the nation.”
“President Trump has pardoned a child murderer,” Dickinson told Newsweek.
Dickinson said that following years of legal proceedings, trials, appeals, dropped charges and re-trials, when the convictions were secured, the victims’ families he represented “were pleased that they had felt they had got some justice beyond the financial recovery that I was able to obtain for them—some criminal justice.
“I am very confident that they are disappointed in the United States today,” he said.
Prosecutors had said the Raven 23 convoy from the company Blackwater, which has been renamed as Academi, had launched an unprovoked attack on an unarmed crowd using sniper fire, machine-guns and grenade launchers.
The dead included 10 men, two women and another boy aged 11. Iraqi authorities put the total death toll at 17, the BBC reported.
Defence lawyers claimed the group had returned fire after being ambushed by Iraqi insurgents. However, in the indictment issued by a federal grand jury in 2008, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia said that “none of the victims of this shooting were armed,” and that “none of them was an insurgent,” The Washington Post reported.
Dickinson told Newsweek: “When the White House statement says the situation turned violent, the situation turned violent because of what those men did—not because of anything that happened around them. While they may have served honorably, they committed heinous crimes that day.”
“President Trump talks repeatedly about law and order and holding people accountable for crimes they commit and yet when these four men are fairly convicted of murder, manslaughter and weapons charges, and killing a nine-year-old boy, he allows them to be free.”
“I think it’s unconscionable that they are pardoned,” he added.
The pardons of the men were also condemned by Human Rights Watch and the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), which said it would embolden others to commit similar crimes. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted: “Pardoning these murderers is a disgrace. They shot women and kids who had their hands in the air.”
The Iraqi foreign ministry urged the U.S. government to reconsider the decision, tweeting that it “did not take into account the seriousness of the crime committed and was inconsistent with the U.S. administration’s declared commitment to the values of human rights, justice and the rule of law.”
It added that it also “regrettably ignores the dignity of the victims and the feelings and rights of their relatives.”
Ali Kinani’s father, Mohammed, who moved to the U.S. to bring the group to justice, told Middle East Eye after he learned of the pardons: “No one is above the law is what we learned in America, but now there’s someone above the law.”
“I don’t know how this is allowed. I don’t think that America is built on such principles,” he told the outlet, “but there must be a way. If not in the earthly courts, then with God. God will not let them go.”
Trump has faced criticism over his use of his clemency powers. On Wednesday, he pardoned numerous allies, including his former advisers Roger Stone and Paul Manafort.