The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s Blackwater pardons are the latest sign Iraqi lives don’t matter to Americans

An Iraqi rides by the remains of a car, burnt after Blackwater guards escorting U.S. embassy officials opened fire in a Baghdad neighborhood in September 2007. (Ali Youssef/AFP/Getty Images)
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Sinan Antoon is an associate professor at New York University. His latest novel is “The Book of Collateral Damage.”

We know too well by now where President Trump stands when innocent civilians are harmed or slaughtered. He has repeatedly stood firmly on the side of perpetrators — applauding, defending and, if necessary, vindicating them. Whether the perpetrator is a neo-Nazi in Charlottesville, a police officer in Minneapolis, or a Blackwater mercenary in Baghdad.

It was despicable, but not surprising at all, that Trump this week pardoned the four mercenaries who were convicted of slaughtering 14 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad in 2007. This is not the first time Trump has pardoned individuals convicted of war crimes in Iraq. A year ago, he pardoned Edward Gallagher, a Navy Seal convicted of committing horrendous war crimes in Mosul. Trump later welcomed Gallagher and his wife to Mar-a-Lago.

In Trump’s world, men of a certain race, in uniform or not, carrying weapons and eager to use lethal force as they see fit to reimpose order on a chaotic world, are merely “doing their jobs.” Those on the other side of the barrel are painted as thugs or barbarians. Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater (now Academi), has called Iraqis “barbarians.” Impunity for pulling the trigger is to be expected. The perpetrators become the victims and the focal point of empathy and understanding.

The massacre at Nisour Square took place in the context of the Iraq War. And it is not an aberration, but one in a long list of massacres of innocent Iraqi civilians. From the massacre of 24 civilians in Haditha in 2005, to the gang rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi and the murder of her family in Mahmudiyah in 2006, to killing an estimated 45 people at a wedding party at Mukaradeeb in 2004. These and other massacres were courtesy of uniformed soldiers, not mercenaries. I have written previously that the entire war was one colossal crime and not a “mistake,” “miscalculation” or “blunder,” as often described in this country.

It is facile to condemn Trump, but do the lives of Iraqi civilians matter as much, or at all, for most of those who will condemn this pardon? Iraqi lives certainly didn’t matter at all for the George W. Bush-era hawks who beat the drums of the war and supported it, and who have since rebranded themselves as part of the resistance in the Trump era. Iraqi lives didn’t matter for all the liberal pundits and scribes who joined the war chorus as they, too, parroted variations on the official narrative before and during the war from their platforms.

Most of them had already supported, or turned a blind eye, to what Joy Gordon called an “invisible war.” The U.S and U.K.-imposed sanctions, the cruelest in modern history, had killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians throughout the 1990s. But it was worth it, as Madeleine Albright infamously said on 60 Minutes.

Whether visible or invisible, waged under a Republican or a Democratic administration, the war’s civilian casualties remain, for all intents and purposes, invisible. Those that briefly make a rare appearance, every now and then, quickly disappear into the vast landscape of American amnesia — a landscape already crowded with other bodies, indigenous and Black, that rarely seem to matter.

The architects, authors and chief perpetrators of the Iraq wars were pardoned in the public eye years ago. Their public appearances in the Trump era are unencumbered by the memory of their catastrophic decisions and actions, instead stirring liberal nostalgia for more “civil” and “normal” times. One recent example is the response to George W. Bush passing a mint to Michelle Obama at former Sen. John McCain’s funeral.

Amid the anger and shock over Trump’s latest pardon of war criminals, let’s not forget that there is already plenty of impunity to go around, as well as generous pardons, not only for those who pulled triggers killing innocent Iraqis, but for those who pulled the discursive triggers, too.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Trump’s latest pardons and commutations are nauseating. But these are the worst.

Hind Hassan: Hundreds of Iraqis have been killed. The world’s silence is deafening.

Douglas A. Ollivant: Why Washington should side with the protesters in Iraq

Munqith Dagher: Why are Iraqi Shiites leading the protests against their ‘own’ government?