On Friday, Donald Trump pardoned four Blackwater mercenaries who were convicted of massacring Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad. According to author Stephen O'Brien, the decision to offer clemency to the military contractors could be a sign of the president's future plans.
"DJT pardoning Erik Prince mercenaries sound a hell of a lot like he wants a private army," he tweeted.
As reported by The New York Times, Trump pardoned former Blackwater mercenaries Nicholas Slatten, Evan Liberty, Paul Slough, and Dustin Heard, all of whom were allegedly involved in the murder of 17 Iraqi civilians — including two boys aged 8 and 11. The publication noted that the Department of Justice made significant efforts to prosecute Slatten, who was sentenced to life in prison before Trump's pardon. Supporters of the mercenaries claimed they were unjustly punished for their crimes and argued that the investigation and prosecution were marred with concerning issues, MarketWatch wrote.
While former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince worked as a Trump official, The Intercept reported that he attempted to provide his military services to the Russian mercenary firm Wagner Group, which is currently involved in at least two conflicts in Africa. The former U.S. Navy SEAL officer still owns the Blackwater trademark and revealed in August that the company is again getting involved in security services — the nature of which is still unclear.
With the recent pardons, some are speculating on Twitter that the president is providing a favor to Prince. David Corn, D.C. bureau chief of Mother Jones, tweeted that it could be for the businessman reportedly lying to investigators in the Russia investigation. Others, like O'Brien and attorney Seth Abramson, suggest that Trump is vying for a private army.According to Georgetown University professor Don Moynihan via Twitter, Trump's decision to pardon the former Blackwater employees sets a concerning precedent that could mean less accountability for future mercenaries.
"Trump's pardoning of four contractors who shot dozens while working for one of his political cronies, Erik Prince, will make it less likely that other countries will accept the US justice system will hold US military or contractors to account in the future."Trump's recent decision to pull United States troops from Somalia was speculated by some to be part of a plan to make way for mercenaries backed by Prince. The Blackwater founder has a long history that involves training CIA operatives, organizing foreign mercenaries, and setting up a training program for a terrorist hit squad. The covert program was allegedly supported by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, in addition to other West Wing officials.