UN Experts: Trump Blackwater Contractor Pardons Violate International Law

President Donald Trump walks along the South Lawn to Marine One as he departs from the White House for a weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago on January 31, 2020. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
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December 30, 2020 12:49 p.m.

President Donald Trump’s pre-Christmas pardon of four Blackwater contractors convicted of killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians in 2007 violated U.S. obligations under international law, United Nations experts said in a Wednesday statement.

“These pardons violate U.S. obligations under international law and more broadly undermine humanitarian law and human rights at a global level,” said Jelena Aparac, chair of the U.N.’s working group on the use of mercenaries.

The human rights experts at the U.N. noted in the statement that the Geneva Conventions require states to hold war criminals accountable for their crimes, even when those crimes are committed by private security contractors. The four former contractors who were pardoned last week opened fire in a Baghdad square over a decade ago and killing 14 Iraqi civilians.

The four contractors responsible for the killings were working at the time for Blackwater Worldwide, the private security firm owned by Erik Prince, the brother of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary. Among them, Nicholas Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder, while Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard were convicted of voluntary and attempted manslaughter. Trump lauded the four, all of whom were military veterans, in his pardon for “a long history of service to the Nation.”

General David Petraeus, who was commander of U.S. forces in Iraq at the time of the violent encounter, issued a joint statement with then-U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, condemning Trump’s “hugely damaging” pardon spree.

The pair said the action “tells the world that Americans abroad can commit the most heinous crimes with impunity.”

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