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Lawyer For Victims' Families On Trump Pardoning 4 Former Blackwater Contractors


It was one of the most horrific moments in the often all-too horrific U.S. war in Iraq. It was 2007, and Blackwater contractors protecting a U.S. convoy in Baghdad opened fire on a traffic circle with machine guns and grenade launchers. Fourteen unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed. Seven years later, a federal jury found four of the contractors guilty in the killings. Yesterday, President Trump gave full pardons to all four, including a former sniper, Nicholas Slatten, who was accused of starting the shooting and who has been serving a life prison sentence for murder. One of the victims from that day, Hassan Salman, spoke with us from Iraq.

HASSAN SALMAN: (Through interpreter) Today we were surprised that the American president issued a decision to pardon these criminals, murderers and thugs. I'm really shocked. The American judiciary is fair and equitable. I had never imagined that Trump or any other politician would affect American justice.

KELLY: I want to bring in Paul Dickinson now. He's a lawyer who represented six Iraqi families in a civil lawsuit against Blackwater and its founder, Erik Prince. He joined me earlier, and I asked what he thought their reaction might be to these pardons.

PAUL DICKINSON: Ali Kinani was 9 years old when he was shot in the head in the backseat of his father's SUV as they traveled with other family members through Nisour Square. I felt yesterday that these family members likely feel let down, abandoned by the U.S. government after we - the U.S. government had promised them that they - the men that did this were going to be held accountable.

KELLY: This incident generated such outrage at the time in Iraq. Just remind us what the response was then and how it might compare to now as Iraqis digest this latest twist.

DICKINSON: I mean, this was, you know, Baghdad's Bloody Sunday. This was the slaughter of innocent civilians who were merely going about their day. As you might expect in any country when something so horrific happens, the citizens wanted to ensure that whoever did it was held accountable and responsible. I think that what has happened now is that, despite all of the hard work, effort, expense that the FBI put into this, who investigated this as a crime scene and spent more - as much time and money as they did since 9/11 and the time and effort and expense that the prosecutors put into this to bring the trial to D.C., to bring the witnesses to D.C. to testify about what happened that day...

KELLY: And collect evidence in the middle of a war in Iraq. This was not easy to prosecute.

DICKINSON: Not easy for them to do. Now it's all for naught. And I think what that does is that sends the wrong message to the people of Iraq, who we told we were going to come in and protect, and to the rest of the world that the pillars of justice upon which the United States is based on has a crack in it.

KELLY: So if I asked what your message would be to the families that you represented in your suit against Blackwater and founder Erik Prince, what your message to them would be tonight, what would you say?

DICKINSON: My message to them is that it is unfortunate that - for the criminal case that these men that committed horrific crimes that they were convicted of are now able to walk free. What I hope that they can understand - and it may be difficult for them - is to know that people like me, we're going to still be here fighting for them. And if this case came to me again today, I'd be just as willing to take it, knowing that there's a big legal fight ahead. But somebody's got to hold people accountable for what they do, the wrongs they commit. That system doesn't exist every place in the world. I still believe it exists in the United States, despite yesterday's actions.

KELLY: That is attorney Paul Dickinson. Mr. Dickinson, thank you for being with us.

DICKINSON: Thank you, Mary Louise, for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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