U.S. President Donald Trump shown in a file photo from 2018. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Through history, the decisions by our presidents to issue pardons and commutations have always been topics of controversy.
President Gerald Ford probably torpedoed his election chances when he pardoned Richard Nixon for Nixon’s Watergate offenses.
President Bill Clinton, a master of the tarnished reputation, pardoned his half-brother, Roger Clinton, for cocaine distribution crimes.
President Jimmy Carter pardoned folk singer Peter Yarrow of “Peter, Paul and Mary” fame. Yarrow had been convicted of taking “indecent liberties” with a 14-year-old girl who asked for his autograph after a concert.
But Donald Trump may be in a league of his own — especially for giving legal forgiveness last month to four employees of the private security company called Blackwater. The company was hired to protect U.S. State Department diplomats in Iraq.
We Americans profess our loyalty to the “rule of law.” But the crimes these Blackwater guards committed were horrendous — and their crimes, and their pardons, should offend everyone who believes in human rights and the sanctity of life.
In all, 17 Iraqi civilians were killed in Baghdad by Blackwater guards on Sept. 16, 2007. Twenty civilians were seriously injured. Three guards were convicted of manslaughter in the massacre, and one was found guilty of murder.
Let’s have John Patarini explain what occurred. He was the FBI agent who led the investigation.
“We originally went to Iraq thinking this shooting was some form of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire between Blackwater guards and insurgents,” Patarini wrote in a letter in the New York Times last week.
“After only one week, we determined that this incident was not as presented by Blackwater personnel and their State Department lackeys, but it was a massacre along the lines of My Lai in Vietnam” — a reference to the 1968 slaughter of 500 civilians by U.S. soldiers.
Patarini added: “President Trump should have had staff members review the trial evidence that led to the convictions and read the judges’ opinions and sentencing statements. God forbid they might have actually picked up the phone and called the investigators who built the case.”
Think about these 37 Iraqi civilians. Put yourselves and your family in the shoes of those men, women and children.
Investigations by the FBI and U.S. military found no evidence of any provocation for the security guards’ actions. Instead, these innocent Iraqis were just going about their lives when the Blackwater men disregarded direct orders, drove their four armored vehicles into a busy intersection known as Nisour Square and then jumped to the wrong conclusion.
The guards found themselves in heavy traffic and went on a 15-minute spree, firing rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers.
Their youngest victim was a 9-year-old boy, Ali Kinani. The guards also fired dozens of rounds through the windshield of a Kia, killing a doctor and her son, a medical student. The guards fired two grenades into a Volkswagen truck making ice deliveries.
Ali was in a Suzuki Trooper SUV driven by his father, Mohammed. The boy was in the rear seat behind his father. Ali’s aunt was next to his father in the front, and Ali’s young cousins were beside him in the back.
Another FBI investigator, Thomas O’Connor, picks up the description of what occurred next.
“Gunfire erupted and everyone in the car laid down in his or her seats as bullets hit the front of the Trooper,” O’Connor wrote on CNN.com. “One of the little girls in the back seat yelled ‘Ali has no hair!’
“When the shooting stopped and the Blackwater team began to move, Mohammed 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,” O’Connor continued.
“How do I know this? I spoke with Mohammed. When a grieving father tells you the story of his son being shot, you don’t forget. While witnesses are not always 100 percent accurate, the bullet holes in the rear driver’s door don’t lie.”
Before the events in Nisour Square, a bomb went off elsewhere in Baghdad while a Blackwater security detail was protecting a U.S. official attending a meeting at an Iraqi government building. Following the explosion, the detail headed back to the U.S. “Green Zone” with the official to get him to safety, O’Connor wrote.
Members of the other Blackwater team, code named Raven 23, were inside the Green Zone when the explosion occurred. Their leader asked U.S. commanders for permission to leave to assist the incoming team.
The request was denied, but the leader of Raven 23 ignored the order, O’Connor said. Raven 23 left the Green Zone anyway in four armored trucks and drove to Nisour Square, where they blocked traffic.
The doctor and medical student died when a Raven 23 guard fired into their Kia. The wounded driver’s foot slipped from the brake pedal, causing the car to roll forward slowly.
The Blackwater guards said they feared the Kia was a car bomb. They fired at least three dozen more shots into the Kia. One guard fired a grenade, causing the Kia’s gas line to rupture, setting the car ablaze.
A few vehicles back, stopped in traffic, were the VW hauling ice and the Suzuki Trooper carrying Ali. Another boy was sitting on a bench at a nearby school when a Blackwater grenade exploded next to the bench.
O’Connor wrote, “I could go on with each of the 17 victims killed and 20 seriously injured in this incident. Same story — sitting in traffic waiting to get somewhere.”
So much for what our Founding Fathers called life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
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