KEY POINTS

  • Trump may pardon at least one man convicted for a 2007 massacre in Iraq
  • Previous pardons of war criminals have elicted protests from the Pentagon
  • Possible pardon choice worked for military contractor with ties to administration
  • Blackwater founder was investigated by Robert Mueller

Unfazed by sharp criticism sparked by the pardons issued to three convicted war criminals, President Donald Trump’s may be considering granting clemency to a man convicted of killing innocent civilians in Iraq. The presidential pardon spree may be driven by tactical concerns in an election year.

The Daily Beast reports that behind closed doors Trump has been deliberating granting possible pardons to several Americans convicted of war crimes as part of the notorious 2007 Nissour Square massacre in Iraq.

One individual who might be seeing the light of day again soon is Nicholas Slatten. In 2007, Slatten was working for Blackwater, a private military contractor service, hired by the Pentagon to provide security service in Iraq during the height of the war. In 2007, Slatten and several other military contractors opened fire on civilians in a busy Baghdad neighborhood without provocation, killing 17 people. Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, while three other members of Blackwater were sentenced to multiple decades in prison for voluntary manslaughter.

In November, Trump faced backlash from the Pentagon after granting pardons to three former U.S. servicemen accused or convicted of war crimes. The clash over the decision ultimately resulted in Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer choosing to step down.

Why is Trump seemingly fixated on pardoning convicted war criminals? In no small part, it’s because Trump appears to believe doing so will appeal to his far-right base, who have largely decried so-called “political correctness culture” and the way it has spilled into other aspects of life, including warfare.

Trump has also been keen on having these pardoned individuals campaign with him. Former Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, charged with murder but convicted of posing with a dead Islamic State fighter, has already stepped up to serve as a mascot of sorts for Trump’s 2020 campaign. Trump himself has expressed interest in having him and the others he’s pardoned join him at his rallies this year.

There is also a reasonable chance that Trump’s interest in pardoning at least one convicted former Blackwater employee extends beyond campaigning opportunities. Blackwater (since rebranded multiple times and currently known as Acadami) was originally founded by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince.

If the name rings a bell, it is because he was a person of interest during Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He is also the brother of Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos.

In the past, Prince has decried the allegations - some of which led to  convictions - against some of the Blackwater members who participated in the Nissour Square massacre as the product of an overzealous left-wing element. As such, it’s possible he has personally lobbied Trump for these pardons.

Trump hopes such pardons will boost him with conservative warhawks. However, given the backlash coming from his own military, it may prove to be a risky political maneuver.

blackwater A combination file photo shows Blackwater Worldwide security guards Nick Slatten (left), Dustin Heard (center) and Evan Liberty, who were sentenced Monday, leaving U.S. Federal Court after being arraigned in Washington in this Jan. 6, 2009 file photo. Photo: Reuters