TEHRAN (FNA)- On Friday, August 4, a US federal appeals court threw out lengthy prison sentences of three former operatives for private mercenary firm Blackwater Worldwide – and ordered a retrial for a fourth operative who had received a life sentence – for their roles in the notorious 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad, which left 14 unarmed Iraqis dead and another 17 wounded.
While defense lawyers have argued that the men were acting in self-defense, federal prosecutors wrote that the men’s ‘crimes were so horrendous – the massacre and maiming of innocents so heinous – that they outweigh any factors that the defendants may argue from a basis for leniency. The federal appeals court, in a split decision issued Friday, claimed prosecutors misapplied a law during the lower court’s trial.
The three-judge panel declared the contractors’ sentences “grossly disproportionate to their culpability for using government-issued weapons in a war zone.” The court ordered the three men to be resentenced, an initial ruling that could significantly reduce their prison terms and even set them free.
Unfortunately, this nightmarish scenario has become a reality for many families in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen as well. There US military court allows marines convicted of massacring unarmed civilians in their homes to go free with only a minor pay dock and demotion. Even those involved in deliberate Saudi-led massacres are acquitted or have the charges dropped, despite the overwhelming evidence of their participation in the killings.
This includes their commanders who lead the bloodbath, ordering their troops to shoot first and ask questions later, and because of this many are holding out hope that despite letting the killers off the hook, justice would be served. This faith in the American justice system is severely misguided.
It confirms something that has become frighteningly clear over the last decade: American troops will not be held responsible for the crimes they commit in the Middle East and North Africa. Americans have long conceived of their fighting forces as a noble lot who uphold values of integrity and justice in their conduct. While this does generally hold untrue, the unwillingness of the military to meaningfully punish those who engage in atrocities against citizens of other nations means that the US military is complicit in the crimes against humanity being committed in its name.
It is important to note that the 2007 Nisour Square massacre did not occur in isolation, but has followed years of atrocities committed at various levels of the US Armed Forces with a shocking degree of official complicity. In 2006, US forces killed ten members of a single family in their home in Al-Balad without punishment. Additionally, the torture of thousands of detained Iraqi civilians at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo has been well documented, with no consequences at all for the perpetrators.
In Afghanistan and Yemen, meanwhile, US soldiers and unpiloted drones have killed tens of thousands of civilians over the last few years. As of yet, no one has been punished for any of these massacres.
The dehumanization of Afghan, Yemeni and Iraqi civilians that these massacres entail is, in fact, consistent with the illegal wars themselves and the way in which the war-party Washington has come to see the Middle East. While the US government speaks at length about the humanitarian impulses behind the wars – saving Iraqis and Afghans or restoring democracy in Yemen – the fact that the Pentagon regime thinks little of killing civilians en masse reflects the hollowness of this rhetoric.
The war crimes committed by US troops and their allies have been met with little outcry internationally. Soldiers who have blown the whistle on atrocities committed by others in uniform, meanwhile, have been subjected to the full force of the government’s wrath. They have been charged with espionage for revealing information to journalists about atrocities committed by the US military. When Private Bradley E. Manning sent Wikileaks a video of US soldiers gunning down civilians in Iraq, he was arrested and detained in inhumane conditions in solitary confinement for years.
The horrifying perversion of justice that US trials represent is, unfortunately, not as surprising as it should be. As long as the United States is not held accountable for its warmongering and aggression in the Muslim world, it makes little sense for the Pentagon regime to punish soldiers who commit war crimes within its ranks. The international civil society’s inability to put America’s illegal wars themselves on trial means that there is little chance of international justice for their innocent victims in the foreseeable future.