We assumed all along that the loser would top off his tenure by pardoning a motley crew of crooked politicians and lying felons. And he did so Tuesday night, blessing some bent congressmen who’d shown early fealty to MAGA, as well as some flunkies who’d lied for Der Leader during the federal probe of the Trump-Russia scandal.
But arguably most noteworthy of all was his decree that four murdering war criminals – all serving long prison terms – shall henceforth be free. That’s our boy, shredding American values to the bitter end.
Remember Blackwater? The mercenary firm that made big money in Iraq, thanks to the Bush administration’s unprecedented efforts to outsource the U.S. occupation and entrust war-fighting to profit-motive privateers? The marauding guns for hire who achieved infamy in 2007 by mowing down 14 innocent civilians in a Baghdad square – men, women, and children, many with their hands in the air – one of the most horrific episodes in Bush’s war?
Granted, 2007 feels like ancient history, but bear with me, because the slaughter of those 14 people had international repercussions, staining our global reputation and alienating even more Americans from the war effort. Ultimately, in 2014, a federal jury in Washington convicted four Blackwater mercenaries – one for murder, three for voluntarily manslaughter. One was sentenced to life, two drew 15 years apiece, and the fourth went away for 12.
A massacre like that was bound to happen. Blackwater, which had a $750-million contract to guard State Department personnel, already had a bad rep. Karl Horst, a U.S. brigadier general, had already told author Jeremy Scahill, “These guys are loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There’s no authority over them.”
But finally, seven years after the killings, the feds cracked down. One major player – the most prominent person who pushed for justice – was Vice President Joe Biden. The four mercenaries naturally became a right-wing cause celebre, and they were nicknamed “The Biden Four.”
In one memo filed with the federal court, retired U.S. Army colonel David Boslego called the massacre “a grossly excessive use of force…grossly inappropriate for an entity whose only job was to provide personal protection to somebody in an armored vehicle. (The killings) had “a negative effect on our mission.” And FBI investigators who visited the scene described it as “the My Lai massacre of Iraq,” a reference to the infamous massacre of civilians in Vietnam.
After the four mercenaries were sentenced, the federal prosecutor said the trial was America at its best: “These Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns, and grenade launchers on innocent men, women, and children. Today, they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families. This verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law.”
Oh well. We all know what Trump thinks about the rule of law.
Why has Trump further degraded the presidency by freeing those killers? It’s easy to connect the dots. Let’s use one of Trump’s Sharpies.
Blackwater was founded and helmed by a guy named Erik Prince. Prince contributed $250,000 to the MAGA campaign mission in 2016, and had close ties to Steve Bannon. Prince’s sister is Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. DeVos is a former Michigan chairwoman of the GOP, and the DeVos family has contributed tens of millions to conservative causes.
And oh, I almost forgot: Shortly before Trump’s Inauguration, Prince had a back-channel meeting in the Seychelles with a Russian banker close to Vladimir Putin. He was later written up in the Mueller Report, and was accused by the House Intelligence Committee of making “manifest and substantial falsehoods that materially impaired the committee’s investigation” of the Trump-Russia 2016 scandal.
There you have it. Justice for 14 dead Iraqi civilians, including two children, was a disposable commodity. Denizens of the Trump swamp took priority over the rule of law – as did Trump’s abiding desire to screw Joe Biden. What can we possibly say at this point? Congressman Seth Moulton, a former Marine who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, gave it a shot on Twitter:
Those “convicted war criminals…are disgraces to our country, and they belong in jail. Thank God (Trump) is on the way out. Decent people everywhere should speak up against this, and show the world that America’s values are not what the president is displaying.”
One more mess for Joe to mop up.
Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].