CONVICT SANTA: Trump Pardons Over 10 Prisoners Including Blackwater Contractors Convicted For Massacre

President Donald Trump has granted a full pardon to 15 people, including four former government contractors convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad that left more than a dozen Iraqi civilians dead and caused an international uproar over the use of private security guards in a war zone.
The others pardoned by Trump on Tuesday include George Papadopoulos, a former campaign aide who pleaded guilty as part of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and two former Republican legislators.  

  The outgoing president also pardoned Alex van der Zwaan, 36, the Dutch son-in-law of Russian billionaire German Khan.  

  Van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in prison and fined $20,000 for lying to US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators about contacts with an official in Trump’s 2016 campaign.  

  Supporters of the former contractors at Blackwater Worldwide had lobbied for the pardons, arguing that the men had been excessively punished in an investigation and prosecution they said was tainted. All four were serving lengthy prison sentences.  

  They were a part of an armoured convoy of vehicles escorting US embassy officials that opened fire at a crowd of unarmed Iraqi civilians.  

  The incident came to be known as the Nisour Square massacre and marked one of the lowest points of the US-led invasion of Iraq.  

  At least two of the 14 killed at the time were children.  

  Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Nicholas Slatten were convicted in 2014 after a months-long trial in Washington’s federal court and each man defiantly asserted his innocence at a sentencing hearing the following year.
Slough, Liberty and Heard were sentenced to 30 years in prison, though after a federal appeals court ordered them to be resentenced, they were each given substantially shorter punishments. Slatten, whom prosecutors blamed for igniting the fight, was sentenced to life in prison.  

  A federal appeals court later overturned Slatten’s first-degree murder conviction but the justice department tried him again and secured another life sentence last year.  

  The pardons reflect Trump’s apparent willingness to give the benefit of the doubt to American service members and contractors when it comes to acts of violence in war zones against civilians.  

  The Blackwater firm was founded by Erik Prince, an ally of Trump and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. It has since been renamed.  

  The Blackwater case has taken a complicated path since the killings at Baghdad's Nisoor Square in September 2007, when the men, former veterans working as contractors for the State Department, opened fire at the crowded traffic circle.  

  Prosecutors asserted the heavily armed Blackwater convoy launched an unprovoked attack using sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers. Defense lawyers argued their clients returned fire after being ambushed by Iraqi insurgents.  

  They were convicted in 2014 after a months-long trial in Washington's federal court, and each man defiantly asserted his innocence at a sentencing hearing the following year.  

  The American Civil Liberties Union decried the pardons. Hina Shamsi, the director of the organisation's national security project, said in a statement that the shootings caused "devastation in Iraq, shame and horror in the United States, and a worldwide scandal. President Trump insults the memory of the Iraqi victims and further degrades his office with this action.”  

  Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar said on Twitter: "Nicholas Slatten, Paul Alvin Slough, Evan Shawn Liberty, and Dustin Laurent Heard are war criminals."  

  "Pardoning monstrous criminals will leave a dark mark on the history of presidential pardons."  

  The pardons reflect Trump's apparent willingness to give the benefit of the doubt to American servicemembers and contractors when it comes to acts of violence in warzones aga 

 inst civilians. Last November, he pardoned a former US Army commando who was set to stand trial next year in the killing of a suspected Afghan bombmaker and a former Army lieutenant convicted of murder for ordering his men to fire upon three Afghans.  

  Blackwater contractors were notorious in Baghdad at the time and were frequently accused of firing shots at the slightest pretext, including to clear their way in traffic.  

  The shooting in the traffic circle stood out for the number killed, but was far from an isolated event.  

  Trump pardoned 15 people on Tuesday, including a pair of congressional Republicans who were strong and early supporters, and a 2016 campaign official ensnared in the Russia probe.

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