President Donald Trump pardoned four former Blackwater mercenaries on Tuesday who had been convicted for their role in the Nisour Square massacre that left 14 people dead in Baghdad in 2007.
The killing of innocent civilians, including two young boys, sparked international outrage and public scrutiny into the use of private military companies, like Blackwater, providing armed fighters for US wars and conflicts.
Nicholas Slatten, Paul Alvin Slough, Evan Shawn Liberty, and Dustin Laurent Heard were convicted in the deadly shooting.
During the trial for Slough, Liberty, and Heard, federal prosecutors argued in 2015 that the men should have received harsh sentences for their roles, stating that they had "shown no remorse for their actions."
"Indeed, the defendants have not accepted responsibility for their criminal actions whatsoever and, to this day, have denied any wrongdoing," prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
The three men were sentenced to 30 years in prison. In 2019, a federal judge resentenced the three men; a federal appeals court had ruled that because they were military contractors in a war zone, they should not have been sentenced under a law that requires a minimum of a 30-year sentence for the use of a machine gun.
Slatten's conviction was overturned. An appeals court ruled he should have been tried separately. In August 2019, he was sentenced to life in prison on first-degree murder charges; he was accused of being the first to fire into the civilian crowd at the square.
But with just 29 days left in office, Trump on Tuesday announced he was issuing a full pardon for the four men, citing their military service.
"The pardon of these four veterans is broadly supported by the public," the statement from the White House read. "Mr. Slatten, Mr. Slough, Mr. Liberty, and Mr. Heard have a long history of service to the Nation."
The White House statement released by the White House announcing the full pardons made no mention of the number of civilians killed — 14 — or the number of innocent people injured — 17 — in the shooting, or that it was found that the contractors started firing without provocation.
"The situation turned violent, which resulted in the unfortunate deaths and injuries of Iraqi civilians," the statement read.
The White House cited a ruling from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in the president's decision; the court stated that additional evidence should have been presented at Slatten's trial.
The White House also cited allegations that an Iraqi investigator key to the case "may have had ties to insurgent groups himself."
The four men had all been working under the private contracting company Blackwater, founded by Erik Prince, a wealthy American defense contractor and supporter of Trump's. His sister, Betsy DeVos, is the Trump administration's education secretary.
The four men were serving as security escorts for the State Department in Iraq in 2007. When the four-car convoy approached Nisour Square, the contractors began firing into the crowd for about 20 minutes.
In court, the contractors argued they had come under fire in the square; however, evidence suggested that the men didn't face any fire in the shooting but had instead been firing automatic weapons and sending grenades into the crowd of civilians.