There is nothing surprising about Trump’s pardoning of war criminals in a system that is in perpetual denial about its atrocities.
Perhaps in an attempt to see just how low he truly can go before he leaves office, outgoing President Donald Trump further plumbed the depths of American political immorality on Tuesday by issuing pardons to four mercenaries convicted of indiscriminately butchering 17 Iraqi civilians, including two children, in 2007.
The striking fact is that no one in Iraq is surprised at how little value the so-called civilised Western world places on human lives that are either not Western or otherwise politically expedient to care about. In many ways, Trump’s candid approach to the matter is refreshing in that at least we all know where we stand when it comes to human rights, rule of law, and vaunted Western “values” that seem to only ever apply when convenient.
In a world that is already inundated with pessimism, Trump has managed to further entrench cynicism against an international order that is defunct, crumbling, and facing a crisis of confidence. In Iraq, it is a wonder anyone manages to function at a psychological level at all given the brutality Iraqis routinely face at the hands of their own regime while the world turns a blind eye.
No value for an Iraqi life
On September 16, 2007, an American diplomatic convoy, Raven 23, was being escorted through Baghdad by the notorious Blackwater (now Academi) private military company. When they reached Nisour Square, an Iraqi couple and their infant son had the grave and deadly misfortune of driving in the opposite direction and, for some reason, did not heed an Iraqi policeman’s call for them to stop while the convoy passed through.
Nevertheless, they were driving slowly and were some distance away, posing no immediate threat, according to an investigation into the incident. Still, that did not stop the Blackwater mercenaries from seeing an opportunity to engage in an orgy of violence. After all, Iraqis had already been dehumanised to the point where their entire country could be invaded based upon lies, so who would care if white American mercenaries simply set about butchering nameless and faceless Arabs?
And set about they did. Using high-powered sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and machine guns, the Blackwater mercenaries, who were contracted by the US government, riddled the car with bullets, killing the couple and their child. Turning their attention now to the screaming and terrified civilians clamouring to escape the carnage, they unleashed another hail of death, killing a further 14 people.
The four murderers – let’s name and shame them – are Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Paul Slough, and Nicholas Slatten. They attained infamy on that day and, despite Blackwater claiming they were responding to an attack by insurgents, this account was rubbished by the US military just a month after the savage incident.
When they were finally convicted in April 2015 of voluntary manslaughter, with Slatten receiving a conviction for first degree murder, the US government released a memorandum and said, “None of the victims was an insurgent, or posed any threat to the Raven 23 convoy.”
However, and little more than half a decade following the convictions, the most powerful man in the American government, who rightly criticised Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad for gassing “beautiful babies”, decided that blotting out the lives of Iraqi civilians, including the innocent souls of children, was justified when done in the cause of American exceptionalism.
The blood of Iraqi civilians holds no value because, after all, they were sacrificed upon the altar of the American Empire, an imperial system that is so deluded that it believes that, whatever its mistakes, it is fundamentally “good” and whoever it acts against is fundamentally “evil”.
War crime denialism is par for the course
Again, this should not surprise us. This is the same system that produced senior politicians like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who happily supported the murdering of Iraqi infants in a US-led sanctions regime that, between 1990 and 1996, killed half a million children.
In 1998, Albright would go on to exceptionalise the American Empire’s use of disproportionate force against Iraq once more and say, “But if we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”
The sheer arrogance and hubris in such a statement is mind-boggling and speaks to a political and systemic narcissism that can be found in statements made by arrogant emperors and their ministers since time immemorial.
But it is not only the United States that suffers from Western denialism over the war crimes it commits.
In a 180-page report, the International Criminal Court (ICC) found that, between 2003 and 2009, British forces had tortured “hundreds of detainees”, while at least seven Iraqis were killed unlawfully while in the custody of British military units who had just invaded and occupied their lands.
Despite the finding, the ICC also confirmed that it would not take action against the UK. This was, without doubt, outrageous. After all, the ICC enjoys a broad jurisdiction over its member states and signatories to the Rome Statute, of which the United Kingdom is one. Yet the ICC feels empowered to indict primarily African states while seemingly turning a blind eye to European and American excesses. Indeed, the failure of the ICC to prosecute war crimes in Iraq has been cited by African states who now want out of the clearly biased court.
When the law simply becomes a tool for the mighty and powerful to appear to be the guardians of what is good, right, and moral, and when it can be so easily circumvented by issuing pardons or failing to prosecute due to political convenience, then it becomes little more than ink on paper.
Trump’s decision to pardon these murderers not only undermined international law, but also American laws, and notions of justice and fairness. Similarly, the British government’s passing of laws to make it even harder to bring allegations of war crimes against its forces operating abroad also makes a mockery of the idea of justice.
In all this, it is important to remember that, when it comes to justice, morality, and standing up for self-professed Western values and principles, Iraqis still came out covered in the blood of their loved ones who were killed by marauding invaders from the West.
This brutality and exceptionalism shows that the Western world is pathologically in denial about its own war crimes and atrocities. By doing this, they are undermining the international system they have set up and presided over since the end of the Second World War. “Moral action”, such as it is, is no longer the preserve of the West and the sooner they get over their arrogance, the safer the disadvantaged of this planet will be.
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