Trump pardons spark outrage

Trump (above) extended executive clemency to people who showed strong political support for him. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - An angry backlash on Wednesday (Dec 23) met US President Donald Trump's pardons of corrupt Republican congressmen and security guards convicted of killing 14 civilians in a 2007 Baghdad massacre.

Following the pattern of earlier announcements, Trump extended executive clemency on Tuesday to people who showed strong political support for him, and former soldiers and law enforcement officials convicted of murder in on-the-job shootings.

Iraqis expressed outrage and sadness after Trump delivered pardons for the four Blackwater security contractors who were convicted of murder and manslaughter six years ago for the Nisur Square massacre.

The four, all former US servicemen, opened fire unprovoked on the crowded square in 2007 in an incident which left at least 14 civilians dead - though Iraqi authorities put the toll as high as 17 - while wounding dozens more and deeply souring US-Iraqi relations.

Previous administrations were loathe to intervene in the legal case.

But the now-defunct Blackwater's owner was Erik Prince, a close Trump supporter and brother of Trump's secretary of education, Betsy DeVos.

'Utter outrage'

"I knew we'd never get justice," Fares Saadi, the Iraqi police officer who led the investigations, told AFP.

A former classmate of a medical student killed at Nisur called the pardons "an utter outrage," but said they were not surprising.

"As far as they are concerned, our blood is cheaper than water and our demands for justice and accountability are merely a nuisance," the classmate said, on grounds of anonymity.

Retired US general Mark Hertling, who served in Iraq, called the Blackwater pardon "egregious and disgusting."

"This was a craven war crime that resulted in the death of 17 Iraqi civilians. Shame on you Mr President," Hertling tweeted, using the higher death toll.

Trump also extended pardons to two men convicted in the Russia election meddling investigation of his 2016 campaign, and three former Republican lawmakers that watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington called "three of the most corrupt Members of Congress in recent history."

All five, however, have been vocal supporters of Trump.

"The message Trump has sent tonight is clear: No matter how awful your crime was, justice does not apply to you if you are loyal to him," CREW said.

According to an analysis by Harvard University law professor Jack Goldsmith and an assistant, Matthew Gluck, at least 42 of the 65 pardons Trump has issued so far were "to advance a political agenda," while only five were recommended by the official White House pardons attorney.

Those pardoned, or who had their sentences commuted, include other figures convicted in the Russia meddling investigation, and a broad mix of pro-Trump activists convicted of felonies.

Trump also stunned prosecutors in Florida on Monday with the pardon of Philip Esformes, a healthcare tycoon sentenced in 2019 to 20 years in prison for bilking the federal Medicare programme of US$44 million (S$58 million) dollars, the largest-ever Medicare fraud case.

While Esformes had no evident links to Trump, he was backed by several influential former Republican attorneys-general and prosecutors who have supported the president.

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff accused Trump of fostering illegal activity.

"If you lie to cover up for the President, you get a pardon. If you are a corrupt politician who endorsed Trump, you get a pardon. If you murder civilians while at war, you get a pardon," he said.

More pardons ahead

Trump is believed to be weighing other pardons, including to indemnify members of his family and potentially himself from potential federal litigation after he steps down on Jan 20.

Other reported possibilities include blanket pardons for his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the Trump Organisation's chief accountant Allen Weisselberg.

He is also being pressed by libertarian and civil rights groups to pardon three people involved in leaks of national security information - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, and another ex-NSA employee Reality Winner.

Pardoning any would lead to outrage in the intelligence and diplomatic community, but Trump has shown sympathy with at least some leaks of intelligence information.

Others known to have requested pardons include a former Maryland policewoman convicted of unjustifiably setting her police dog on several suspects; a former US soldier convicted of murdering 16 Afghan civilians in 2012; and Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, the star of the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King, convicted of trying to hire a man to murder a rival.

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