Iraq massacre survivors shocked as Trump pardons Blackwater guards

Shooting in 2007 killed 14 people after Blackwater guards opened fire on a crowded square in Baghdad

Iraqis were bitterly disappointed on Wednesday after US President Donald Trump pardoned four Blackwater security guards given lengthy sentences for killing 14 civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

Hassan Jabir, a survivor of the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in the country's capital, relived the horror of the moment he was shot.

"Blackwater contractors are criminals, they killed innocent people and maimed others," Mr Jabir told The National.

The 2007 shooting included children among the dead and sparked outrage in Iraq over the use of private security guards in war zones.

Mr Jabir, who suffered severe injuries to his back, hands and abdomen, said Mr Trump’s decision is a breach of international law and human rights.

“It is a shock and big disappointment.”

He was driving through Al Nisour Square on the way to work when the shooting started.

“All of a sudden I was hit by a barrage of bullets,” he said. “I underwent numerous surgeries, and now have diabetes and functional deficits in some parts of the body.”

Mr Jabir believes the US president wants to "pave the way for the company to return to Iraq”.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 15, 2005, US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, wearing a flack jacket and surrounded by bodyguards from the US security firm Blackwater, leaves the Civil and Military Operation Center (CMOC) in Fallujah. Iraqis on December 23, 2020 were outraged, heartbroken but not surprised to hear of a US presidential pardon for four American security guards convicted of killing Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007. The Blackwater team, contracted to provide security for US diplomats in Iraq following the American-led invasion in 2003, claimed they were responding to insurgent fire. The bloody episode left at least 14 Iraqi civilians dead and 17 wounded.
 / AFP / Patrick BAZ

Later on Wednesday, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry decried the decision, saying "it didn't take into consideration the seriousness of the crime committed and it does not correspond with the US Administration's declared commitment regarding the values of human rights."

The decision "regrettably ignores the dignity of the victims and the feelings and rights of their families," it said, adding that it will follow up with the US Administration "through diplomatic channels to urge it to reconsider the decision."

Bara Saadoun Ismaiel, a businessman in the field of medical equipment, said he was disturbed and left speechless by the decision, but believes the victims can still get justice.

"This is proof that democracy and advocating for human rights in the US is just a big lie," he told The National.

Both men said they are exploring options to reopen the case in US courts.

The massacre caused international uproar over the use of private contractors in conflict zones.

The four guards, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Nicholas Slatten used machine guns and grenade launchers to fire on a crowd of unarmed people in Baghdad.

“The pardon of convicted Blackwater murderers of innocent Iraqi civilians sends a terrible message to the Iraqi people and demoralises the Iraqi leaders,” said Abbas Kadhim, the Atlantic Council’s Iraq Initiative director.

Iraqi officials are already “arguing a weak case of keeping US military presence in the country”, Mr Kadhim said.

Ali Al Bayati, a member of the Iraqi Human Rights Commission, said the foreign ministry in Baghdad must hold an emergency meeting with the UN Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court.

“This is a clear violation of international humanitarian law that requires conflict zones to protect civilians and for states to hold individuals to account who violate these regulations,” Mr Al Bayati said.

“There is a lack of seriousness in holding these men to account,” he said.

Three of the men, Slough, Heard and Liberty, were found guilty of 13 charges of voluntary manslaughter in 2014 and 17 charges of attempted manslaughter. They each got 30 years.

Slatten, the team’s sniper and the first to open fire, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Many described the move as renewing the crime committed against the Iraqi people.

"Iraqi lives matter. We matter. We are human beings. People in Iraq deserve justice, accountability, closure and healing," said Ruba Al Hassani, an Iraqi sociologist.