By Phil Wilayto
It was Sept. 16, 2007, and a contingent of U.S. mercenaries working for the private security contractor Blackwater was accompanying a U.S. diplomatic convoy through Nisour Square in Baghdad, Iraq.
According to U.S. prosecutors who later won convictions against four of the mercenaries, the men launched an unprovoked attack against an unarmed crowd of civilians with machine guns, grenade launchers and sniper fire. At least 14 Iraqis died: 10 men, two women and two boys, aged nine and 11.
A full seven years later, three of the attackers were convicted by a U.S. federal court of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and other charges and sentenced to between 12 and 15 years in prison. The fourth man, who had been the first to start shooting, received life.
On this Dec. 22, outgoing President Donald Trump pardoned the four, saying the action was “broadly supported by the public.”
That’s highly unlikely, given the sad fact that most of the U.S. public probably doesn’t even remember the Nisour Square massacre, so it’s not a move likely to win him any new supporters. But the pardons did come just three day after Trump tweeted a call for a “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” the day Congress is scheduled to certify the presidential election.
“Be there, will be wild!” Trump urged his followers.
There hadn’t been any plans for a Jan. 6 protest until Trump’s tweet, but extreme right-wing groups immediately began planning one. Previous pro-Trump gatherings in November and December in D.C. resulted in several stabbings, along with the destruction of anti-racist banners at two Black churches.
So it’s possible the pardons were meant to send a message to Trump supporters that, if they engage in violence on Jan. 6, he would support them in some way. Or maybe he knows he has no chance of overturning the election results and has decided to encourage a broader fascist movement that he can lead or at least support once out of office. Or maybe Trump just hates Brown people enough that he wanted to pardon their murderers out of general sympathy for their actions.
Trump is a singular phenomenon in U.S. politics. Most successful presidential candidates are favored by one or another faction of the 1 percent of the U.S. population that is wealthy enough to control the political process – a fact many people learned as a result of the Occupy Movement of 2011-12.
In Trump’s case, his bid for the Republican nomination in 2016 was opposed by powerful right-wing factions, including the Koch Brothers, who fund many of the supposedly grassroots conservative movements. Instead, Trump won the nomination and then the general election – not the popular vote, but the more important Electoral College – because, on the one hand, so many voters were fed up with the anti-working-class neoliberalism of the Democrats personified by their candidate Hillary Clinton, and, on the other, so many embraced Trump’s racism, xenophobia and anti-Muslin rhetoric – reactionary positions that would soon be translated into actual policy.
Trump himself is not part of the powerful 1 percent. He is a venal, corrupt millionaire-businessman motivated by personal greed and a pathological need for attention, if not adulation. But once in office he implemented policies that greatly increased the wealth of the extremely rich, by deregulating industry, implementing big tax cuts, slashing environmental regulations and more. As a result, powerful sections of the 1 percent realized that the Trump presidency could benefit them.
The problem, for the elite, is that Trump hasn’t grasped the fact that the president of the United States is not just the leader of a country. That much is true, but more importantly the president is also responsible for safeguarding and expanding the Empire. Because that’s what the U.S. really is – an Empire, not just a country. And that Empire is safeguarded by making sure the U.S. military can dominate the world.
Trump may like to threaten China, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and other countries that defy the dictates of the Empire, but he’s not interested in strategically dominating the world. He pulled this country out of the 2017 Pacific trade deal, opening the door for China to assume a leadership role. He is withdrawing troops out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, saying he’s not interested in these “endless wars.” But in the 21st century, endless wars, occupations, blockades, sanctions and subversions of every kind are exactly what is needed to maintain the Empire.
I believe this is why Trump lost the 2020 presidential election: The U.S. ruling class lost confidence in his willingness and ability to defend the Empire. And they know that President-elect Joe Biden has proven himself to be a faithful servant of the ruling class, more than willing to support wars on innocent countries if it serves the interests of U.S. corporations.
Trump can, on the one hand, threaten the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with nuclear annihilation, and at the same time withdraw U.S. troops from the country’s longest war, in Afghanistan. And he can pardon murderous war criminals because he actually admires their racist, vicious cruelty, after having called fallen U.S. soldiers “suckers” and “losers.” But this doesn’t make him a reliable administrator of the Empire.
Does Trump’s pardoning of the Blackwater mercenaries encourage further atrocities by U.S. soldiers and contractors? Of course it does. And it builds on former President Barack Obama’s refusal to prosecute CIA operatives guilty of running secret toruture centers.
Does it undermine the authority of the United States and its relations with countries such as Iraq? Sure. But does Trump care about that? No. He’s thinking about his reputation among his followers, most of whom probably do support the pardons.
Is there a solution to the atrocities that have been carried out by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and so many other countries around the world? Not so long as the role of the military is to defend the interests of U.S. corporations. People can protest, lawyers can litigate, more progressive politicians can be elected to Congress and all these things can help curb the atrocities for a while. This is what happened after the My Lai Massacre, the Tiger Cages, the field torture sessions and the hideous anti-personnel weapons in Vietnam.
But then came Abu Ghraib in Iraq, the secret CIA rendition centers in other countries and the mercenary massacre at Nisour Square in Iraq. U.S. domination ultimately depends on terror on every level, and that terror will continue until the U.S. no longer dominates the world – or until the U.S. public becomes conscious enough, active enough and determined enough to remove that wealthy 1 percent from power and develop the United States into the country it claims to be: democratic, morally healthy and willing to live in peace and harmony with the rest of the world.
Phil Wilayto is a longtime antiwar activist, author and editor of The Virginia Defender newspaper. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.