This combination made from file photo shows Blackwater guards, from (L) Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten and Paul Slough. AP
US President Donald Trump pardoned 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.
Trump also granted pardons to two people linked to a probe into alleged collusion between his campaign and Russia along with a list of others as time ticks away on his remaining weeks in office.
The moves drew even further controversy and came as the outgoing Republican continues to refuse to concede defeat to Democrat Joe Biden in the November election. They add to pardons already issued to political allies of Trump, due to leave office on Jan.20.
Trump's actions in his final weeks in office show a president who is wielding his executive power to reward loyalists and others who he believes have been wronged by a legal system he sees as biased against him and his allies.
The pardons drew criticism from top Democrats. Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the president was abusing his power.
"Trump is doling out pardons, not on the basis of repentance, restitution or the interests of justice, but to reward his friends and political allies, to protect those who lie to cover up him, to shelter those guilty of killing civilians, and to undermine an investigation that uncovered massive wrongdoing," Schiff said.
On Tuesday, Trump issued the pardons — not an unusual act for an outgoing president — even as he refused to publicly acknowledge his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, who will be sworn in on Jan.20.
Trump is likely to issue more pardons before then. He and his allies have discussed a range of other possibilities, including members of Trump's family and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Those pardoned on Tuesday included former Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York, two of the earliest GOP lawmakers to back Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Trump also commuted the sentences of five people, including former Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas.
Collins, the first member of Congress to endorse Trump to be president, was sentenced to two years and two months in federal prison after admitting he helped his son and others dodge $800,000 in stock market losses when he learned that a drug trial by a small pharmaceutical company had failed.
Hunter was sentenced to 11 months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing campaign funds and spending the money on everything from outings with friends to his daughter’s birthday party.
A man rides a bicycle passing by a remains of a car, burnt after Blackwater guards opened fire in Baghdad. File / AFP
Full pardons were also granted on Tuesday night to the four Blackwater security guards convicted over the 2007 killing of Iraqis. The four guards for the Blackwater security firm convicted over the 2007 shootings included Nicholas Slatten, who had been sentenced to life.
They were convicted of opening fire in Baghdad's crowded Nisur Square on Sept.16, 2007, in a bloody episode that caused an international scandal and heightened resentment of the American presence.
Supporters of Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard, the former contractors at Blackwater Worldwide, had lobbied for pardons, arguing that the men had been excessively punished in an investigation and prosecution they said was tainted by problems and withheld exculpatory evidence. All four were serving lengthy prison sentences.
The pardons reflected Trump’s apparent willingness to give the benefit of doubt to American servicemembers and contractors when it comes to acts of violence in war zones against 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.
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