DONALD Trump has controversially pardoned four Blackwater security guards who massacred 14 Iraqi civilians in a horrifying gun and grenade attack.
The outgoing president has been accused of "insulting the memory of the Iraqi victims" by issuing the "grotesque" pardons.
It comes as Trump – who is due to leave the White House next month – handed out 15 pardons and five commutations on Tuesday for his Republican allies.
The list includes four former government contractors – Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard – who were convicted in a 2007 massacre in the Iraqi capital.
It left more a dozen Iraqi civilians dead and caused an international uproar over the use of private security guards in a war zone.
The four men were part of an armoured convoy that opened fire indiscriminately with machine guns and grenade launchers on a crowd of unarmed people in Baghdad.
In 2014, Slatten, who was the team's sniper, was convited of first-degree murder.
He was sentenced to life without parole, as prosecutors said he was the first to fire shots in the massacre at a crowded traffic circlethat left 10 men, two women, and two boys, ages 9 and 11, dead.
Meanwhile, Slough, Liberty and Heard were found guilty of 13 charges of voluntary manslaughter and 17 charges of attempted manslaughter.
They were sentenced to 30 years each.
Supporters of the four former Blackwater Worldwide contractors had lobbied for pardons, arguing that the men had been excessively punished; all four have been serving lengthy prison sentences.
Hina Shami, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's national security project, has condemned the pardons, saying the president "has hit a disgraceful new low".
In a statement, she said: "These military contractors were convicted for their role in killing 17 Iraqi civilians and their actions caused devastation in Iraq, shame and horror in the United States, and a worldwide scandal.
"President Trump insults the memory of the Iraqi victims and further degrades his office with this action."
This has been echoed by award-winning journalist and co-founder of the Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, who described the pardons as "grotesque".
The pardons reflected Trumps apparent willingness to give the benefit of doubt to American service members and contractors when it comes to acts of violence in war zones against civilians.
Last November, for instance, he pardoned a former US Army commando who was set to stand trial next year in the killing of a suspected Afghan bomb-maker and a former Army lieutenant convicted of murder for ordering his men to fire upon three Afghans.
Other crimes that have been pardoned range from lying to the FBI, to insider trading, and misuse of campaign funds.
George Papadopoulos, included in Trump's pardons, was the first campaign aide sentenced in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Papadopoulos triggered the investigation and was sentenced in September 2018 for lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Former Republican Representatives Chris Collins, of New York, Duncan Hunter, of California, and Steve Stockman, of Texas, were also pardoned.
Collins was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump for the presidency – and was later sentenced to two years and two months in federal prison.
The former New York rep had admitted to helping his son and others dodge $800,000 in stock market losses when he learned that a drug trial by a small pharmaceutical company had failed.
Hunter was sentenced in March to 11 months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing more than $250,000 in campaign funds and trying to hide it on financial disclosures.
Prosecutors said he spent the money on everything ranging from outings with friends to his daughter’s birthday party.
Hunter resigned from Congress in January after representing one of Southern California’s last solidly Republican districts; he was scheduled to report to prison next month.
In 2018, Stockman was convicted in 2018 on charges of fraud and money laundering and was serving a 10-year sentence before he was pardoned.
Prosecutors said he conspired to take at least $775,000 from conservative foundations that planned to give the donations for charities and voter education.
Trump also pardoned Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer who was sentenced to 30 days in prison for lying to investigators during Mueller’s investigation.
Van der Zwaan and Papadopoulos are the third and fourth Russia investigation defendants that have been granted clemency.
People close to Trump told The New York Times that the pardons related to the Mueller investigation "are a signal of more to come of people caught up in the investigation."
Trump also granted full pardons to two former Border Patrol agents "whose sentences for their roles in the shooting of an alleged drug trafficker had previously been commuted by President George W. Bush."
Last month, Trump pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Months earlier, the president commuted the sentence of another associate, Roger Stone, just days before he was to report to prison.
Since Trump lost the election to Joe Biden, it's been widely speculated that Trump could pardon his closest allies before leaving office.
Politico had reported that those up for the possible pardons included Rudy Guiliani and Jared Kushner, along with Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr Trump.
Others touted for Trump to pardon reportedly include Tiger King Joe Exotic, Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort, and former White House adviser Steve Bannon, according to a New York Times report.
There's even speculation that Trump might try to pardon himself.
It's not unusual for presidents to grant clemency on their way out of the White House.
However, Trump has made it clear that he has no issues about intervening in the cases of friends and allies whom he believes have been treated unfairly.
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