January 4, 2021
On December 24, President Trump issued pardons to more than 90 people. The Washington Post said 60 have gone to petitioners who have a personal tie to Mr. Trump or who helped his political aims, according to a tabulation by the Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith. One recipient of a pardon was a family member, Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law, was guilty of 16 counts of tax evasion. Many slammed the pardons as antithetical to the rule of law. Others called for an overhaul of the pardon power, saying Trump has so corrupted it that it should be amended or even stripped from the Constitution. Had this been all, the damage they did to America’s global image aside, the pardons would have been an essentially domestic issue. Unfortunately, there was more.
Among those pardoned were for four trigger-happy employees of the private security firm Blackwater who were convicted of killing 14 Iraqi citizens in Baghdad in September 2007. All four were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. One was given a life sentence without parole.
In 2014, some survivors of the shooting and family members flew to the US to testify in the trial of four of those Blackwater guards. According to the New York Times, one of those survivors said, “I went to America and saw the killers walking free, wearing suits,” he said in an interview in Baghdad on Wednesday. “I said, ‘Tomorrow I will return to my country, but will these killers face justice?’”
“Today,” he added, “they proved to me it was just theater.”
For some survivors of the attack, President Trump’s pardon of the Blackwater contractors was a bitter reminder of what Iraqis have always viewed as a lack of concern over their lives.
Indeed, tens and tens of thousands of civilians have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan wars including thousands killed by “friendly fire”. Troops from Western countries have also been killed by friendly fire making headlines in the West whereas local losses are only briefly and routinely mentioned. And numbers have always been a problem with exceptions.
On December 21, 2017, the Associated Press reported, “The price Mosul’s residents paid in blood to see their city freed was 9,000 to 11,000 dead, a civilian casualty rate nearly 10 times higher than what has been previously reported. The number killed in the nine-month battle to liberate the city from the Islamic State group marauders has not been acknowledged by the U.S.-led coalition, the Iraqi government, or the self-styled caliphate.”
On April 5, 2018, the Atlantic reported, “Across the entire coalition war against ISIS since 2014, the United States and its allies have so far conceded 841 civilian deaths while Airwars, places the likely minimum tally at 6,200 or more killed.” Airwars is a not-for-profit transparency organization aimed at tracking, assessing, and archiving military actions and related civilian harm claims in conflict zones.
The past two decades has unmistakably shown that external interventions which were launched “to bring democracy” to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have only led to devastation, displacement, and loss of life. The intervention in Afghanistan was understandable to a certain extent coming right after 9/11 but the latter two had no justification. If Middle East authoritarianism was a problem, there were less costly ways to confront it, given time.
President Trump’s issuing pardons to the four employees of Blackwater is worse than the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004 because he is the President of the United States. What was violated in Abu Ghraib was Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stipulates that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Mr. Trump’s pardons violated Article 3 of the Declaration because those four employees denied 14 Iraqis the right to life.
Double standards regarding loss of life only serves the distorted ideology of ISIS and its likes. Unfortunately for the peoples of the Middle East, their own rulers have little respect for the right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So, others say, “if they do not care why should we?”