Pardoning Blackwater Criminals And Persecuting Assange: The West’s Double Standards
On January 6, 2020, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser denied bail to WikiLeaks founder and journalist Julian Assange over fears that he could abscond while waiting for the US to launch its appeal. Even as the ruling is patently flawed from a legal viewpoint, it also forces us to think that the US and UK are actively striving for Assange’s death. As Baraitser’s earlier decision to block Assange’s extradition to USA clearly confirmed, his mental health is already in poor shape, making him a suicide risk. His prolonged incarceration in Belmarsh prison - considered by many as “Britain’s Guantanamo” - will only intensify his sense of despair, deep depression, and the danger that he tries to take his own life.
Nisour Square Massacre
While Assange is being compelled to painfully rot in a high-security prison, Blackwater war criminals have been allowed to get off scot-free. On December 22, 2020, Donald Trump pardoned four security guards from the private military firm Blackwater who were serving jail sentences for killing 14 civilians, including two boys, 9 and 11 years of age, and a woman burned alive in her car. The circumstances of this massacre were revealed following exhaustive investigations by the US military, the FBI and the Iraqi authorities.
A squad of Blackwater mercenaries, deployed as guards for US State Department officials, left its base in the Green Zone on the morning of September 16, 2007, equipped with heavy weapons. At the first city square (Nisour Square) they entered, the mercenaries halted traffic and then indiscriminately fired automatic weapons, sniper rifles and grenade launchers on cars, taxis and buses carrying hundreds of ordinary Iraqis. The four killers – Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Nicholas Slatten - suffered no injury and their claims of self-defense were rejected by Iraqi and US investigations.
In a statement accompanying the pardons, the White House described the former Blackwater mercenaries as veterans with “a long history of service to the nation.” Is the gruesome murder of Iraqi civilians equivalent to an act of national pride? On December 30, the UN Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council issued a statement which read: “Pardoning the Blackwater contractors is an affront to justice and to the victims of the Nisour Square massacre and their families…The Geneva Conventions oblige States to hold war criminals accountable for their crimes, even when they act as private security contractors. These pardons violate US obligations under international law and more broadly undermine humanitarian law and human rights at a global level”.
WikiLeaks’ Role in Exposing Blackwater’s Cruelty in Iraq
Ironically, it was WikiLeaks which helped expose the murderousness of Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq. Apart from the Nisour Square massacre, the WikiLeaks Iraq war files - published on the internet in 2010 - revealed 14 other incidents in which Blackwater guards opened fire on civilians, killing 10 and wounding seven. In one-third of the cases where civilians were unlawfully killed, the operatives were protecting US diplomats as part of a $465 million State Department contract. The files show that Blackwater mercenaries repeatedly shot at civilian vehicles that came close to their convoys. The following are some instances of Blackwater’s barbaric behavior, made public due to WikiLeaks’ Iraq War logs -
- In August 2006, after being struck by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in the southbound lane of a highway, Blackwater contractors shot and killed an Iraqi in the back seat of a vehicle traveling in the northbound lane.
- In May 2005, a convoy of private security guards from Blackwater riding down Route Irish - the Baghdad airport road - shot an Iraqi vehicle, killing the driver and injuring his wife and daughter.
- In February, 2006, as Blackwater mercenaries were escorting US diplomats through Kirkuk, they opened fire on civilians, killing two. Protests erupted in Kirkuk after these murders.
- In May of 2006, Blackwater guards let loose “uncontrolled fire” in north Baghdad, killing an ambulance driver, Jasem Abed Sarhan. The shooting came as blind retaliation for their vehicle hitting a roadside bomb.
- In April 2006, Blackwater mercenaries gunned down three civilians in Baghdad, claiming they were insurgents who had escaped.
We live in a world where those who wantonly kill innocent people are pardoned and those who reveal these murderers’ crime are indefinitely jailed. The perversity of this logic should convince anyone who has the slightest concern for humanity’s future to demand the immediate release of Assange. Assange is not guilty of a single crime in any country. Disclosing how the American empire manically bombs harmless individuals is not an offense. Rather, keeping silent about the terroristic behavior of imperialism is a major crime. Hence, we all need to insist that Assange be given bail.