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US Promised Iraqis Justice, Trump’s Pardons Took it Away!

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LAWYER PAUL DICKINSON SAYS . .

by Selvam Canagaratna

“It’s perfectly obvious that somebody’s responsible and somebody’s innocent. Otherwise it [Justice] makes no sense at all.”

– Ugo Betti, Landscape (1936)

[Lawyer, Paul Dickinson represented the family of Ali Kinani and five other victims of the Blackwater contractors convicted of killing at least 14 innocent Iraqi citizens in the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre.]

President Trump’s pardon of four former Blackwater contractors has sparked outrage in Iraq and in the United States. Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard were convicted in the killing of 14 Iraqis in 2007, when contractors for the mercenary firm opened fire on civilians in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. The four Blackwater guards were convicted in 2014 after years of painstaking work by investigators and prosecutors to address one of the most infamous chapters of the US occupation of Iraq.

Paul Dickinson, who was the lawyer for several victims of the Blackwater massacre, says Trump’s pardons are a fresh insult to Iraqis who lost loved ones and who were promised justice would be served. “Now, after the promises that we made to each one of these victims that we were going to hold people accountable for their criminal actions abroad, that has been taken away from them,” he says.

AMY

GOODMAN: Last week, President Trump pardoned the four former Blackwater mercenaries involved in the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre, where 17 Iraqi civilians died. The pardoned men include Nicholas Slatten, who had been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of first-degree murder for his role in the massacre. The other three Blackwater contractors were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and given sentences of 12 to 15 years.

The pardons have sparked outrage in Iraq and here in the United States. The father of nine-year-old victim Ali Kinani told the Middle East Eye: “No one is above the law is what we learn in America, but now there’s someone above the law. I don’t know how this is allowed,” he said.

Blackwater was founded by Erik Prince, a close ally of President Trump. Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, serves as Education Secretary. Supporters of the Blackwater guards refer to the men as “the Biden Four.” In 2010, then-Vice President Joe Biden announced the Justice Department would appeal the dismissal of a criminal case against the Blackwater mercenaries involved in the Nisoor Square massacre. The men would later be tried and convicted.

Paul Dickinson served as the lawyer for the family of Ali Kinani and five other victims of the Blackwater contractors who were convicted of killing at least 14 innocent Iraqi citizens in the attack. Dickinson’s recent for The Intercept is headlined “I Sued Blackwater for the Massacre of Iraqi Civilians. Trump Just Pardoned Those Convicted Killers.”

Paul Dickinson, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you respond to the pardon, and its significance?

PAUL

DICKINSON: I will admit it’s been quite a while since I’ve listened to that gripping interview with Mohammed. I was sitting in the room when he gave that story and explained what happened that day. And sitting here listening to it again through my headset, I’m reminded of the horror that he and others faced that day.

My response to the pardon is that these four men were tried and convicted by the US legal system, that there were difficulties with prosecution — as you mentioned, the indictment was dismissed on New Year’s Eve 2009. Joe Biden gave a press conference and said that the US government was going to pursue the prosecution. Each step of the way, Mohammed and others, including my other five clients, were promised by the US Justice Department that we were going to hold those men accountable. And that’s what we did. Nicholas Slatten was tried with the other three. The court of appeals made a decision that he should have been tried separately. He was tried separately.

The important thing to note from this is not that there was some extraordinary effort to try these men or to make an example of them, but, however, that they were given fair trials; that the US court system, the US justice system, worked for these men and for their victims to ensure justice was given fairly, that they received fair trials; and now, after the promises that we made to each one of these victims that we were going to hold people accountable for their criminal actions abroad, that that has been taken away from them. And I cannot imagine the feelings that Mohammed and the others have for feeling that justice has been taken from them by the US government, after it had been promised to them. We have gone back on our word to these victims, and that is sad and unfortunate.

AMY

GOODMAN: In fact, Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder, actually, not for the killing of Ali Kinani — is that right? — but the 19-year-old medical student who was driving his mom.

PAUL

DICKINSON: That’s my understanding, yes.

AMY

GOODMAN: And so, what at this point happens next? They’re just freed from prison?

PAUL

DICKINSON: The President’s pardon power is absolute. Yes, they are freed from prison. As I recently tweeted about, the four men are given pardons, and the contract that Blackwater had with the Department of State provided the contractors who were working in Iraq and elsewhere under the contract complete immunity from both criminal and civil liability in Iraq, and that the only place that these men could have been charged criminally or held civilly accountable, which is what my lawsuit was about, was in the United States.

But even those steps provided us very difficult legal hurdles to get over to get them in the United States, get jurisdiction over them. We sued them in North Carolina. Case was removed to federal court, then sent back to state court. It was on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals for a period of time before the case eventually resolved. The Justice Department faced similar difficulties in trying them in the United States. However, the courts of appeals determined that those cases were correct, and the federal court in North Carolina thought that our claim was correct, and state court in North Carolina.

There is no other place to try these men. There is no other place to hold them accountable. We held them accountable for the civil claims, but the criminal claims are now gone. There’s nothing that can be done. It’s unfortunate. As I said, we’ve gone back on our word against these people, and that word cannot be changed now.

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Features

Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.

 

 

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