Fox's Pete Hegseth defends Blackwater contractors convicted of murdering Iraqi civilians

Video file

Citation From the August 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Sunday

PETE HEGSETH (CO-HOST): Back in 2007, four Blackwater contractors were tasked with defending American diplomats at the height of the Iraq War -- remember, 2007, dangerous times. The men were found guilty of killing Iraqi civilians, but they maintain their innocence, saying they were ambushed. Our next guests are telling the Blackwater story in the podcast, the brand-new podcast out today, Raven 23: Presumption of Guilt.

...

This show's covered Eddie Gallagher, Matt Goldstein, Clint Lorance, guys in prison for things, for questionable situations. This one's as bad as it gets. Explain what happened. Raven 23's the call sign of these four contractors. What happened in Iraq that day?

GINA KEATING (PRODUCER): They were called to clear a route so that a diplomat who was at a location that had just been bombed could come through and go safely to the Green Zone.

HEGSETH: That person'd just been bombed and they're evacuating.

KEATING: Exactly. 

MICHAEL FLAHERTY (PRODUCER): And this is in September when there was an average of two attacks a day, and they had developed a great new technique where they would detonate a car bomb and people would swarm to go protect people, and then they would ambush them.

HEGSETH: Secondary ambush.

KEATING: Exactly. So they get to this traffic circle, Nisour Square, and are immediately fired upon and then a car comes through the stopped traffic and they believe it's a car bomb. They fire at it, they neutralize the threat, and then one of their vehicles is disabled. They tow it out, go back to the Green Zone, don't think anything about it because this sort of thing happens every day in Iraq.

HEGSETH: Another day on the job in Iraq. I was in Iraq '05/'06, encountered situations just like this. Split-second decisions, violence happened fast, enemy using nasty tactics. Initially they were exonerated from this, am I correct?

FLAHERTY:  Oh yes, in a scathing 90-page opinion, a federal judge that President Clinton appointed to the bench talked about all of the prosecutorial misconduct that happened and the withholding of the evidence, and how the defendants' civil rights were violated.

HEGSETH: So they're making tough calls on the battlefield. Today though, however, three of the four, and soon to be four, are in jail for 30 years, convicted by a civilian court. Part of the reason that happened is Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton stepped in when there was politics being played about Iraq.

...

So it's called Raven 23 but you can call them the 'Biden Four' because of political negotiations [Vice] President Biden and others reopened this case and made these guys vulnerable.

FLAHERTY: And Iraq was Biden's war. President Obama made that clear. President Obama said, "I have the economy and Afghanistan, you have Iraq." So this was a year after the case was thrown out and as you can see, the vice president was reading from prepared remarks and he did not even know the name of the place where this happened.

HEGSETH: Yeah he mispronounced it.

FLAHERTY: Nisour Square. It wasn't like he got the accent wrong.

HEGSETH: He just doesn't know it but it's happy to throw these guys under the bus. We don't have enough time, only about 45 seconds, but this podcast, Raven 23, what is the story you're telling?

KEATING: We're just talking about how a long term government persecution of these guys has devastated these families. The fact that the Justice Department just did whatever it had to do to win this case, including suppressing evidence, coaching witnesses. They outsourced this case to an Iraqi investigator --

HEGSETH: It's amazing.

KEATING: -- who they know was a jihadist.

The Washington Post reported on this case in December 2018:

A former Blackwater security guard was convicted of first-degree murder Wednesday for killing the first of 14 unarmed civilians in a barrage of gunfire in a crowded Baghdad traffic circle in 2007, an episode that drew international condemnation during the Iraq War.

It was the second time a federal jury in Washington convicted Nicholas A. Slatten, 35, of murder in the death of 19-year-old Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y. His 2014 conviction was overturned on appeal, and a second trial last summer ended in a hung jury. Slatten now faces a mandatory life sentence without parole.

...

Three other Blackwater guards who were part of Slatten’s convoy also were convicted in 2014, of manslaughter and other charges. The verdicts for Paul A. Slough, Evan S. Liberty and Dustin L. Heard were not reversed, but the 30-year sentences they received were vacated on appeal. No sentencing date has been set for any of the four defendants, all of whom are in custody.

As mentioned above, Slatten is a former security contractor with the Blackwater mercenary company who was found guilty of first-degree murder in December 2018 for his role in the September 2007 massacre of unarmed Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad, by several Blackwater employees. Fourteen Iraqis were killed and a further 18 were wounded in the unprovoked massacre, which prosecutors said Slatten initiated by being the first to fire. Slatten’s conviction was a long time in coming, with the first charges against him and other Blackwater members thrown out in 2009.

The case was later picked up with new evidence and Slatten was convicted of murder in 2014. An appeals court overturned this first conviction and ordered a new trial for Slatten, which initially ended in a mistrial. According to prosecutors, Slatten had told members of his team that Iraqi “people’s lives are not worth anything” and “they’re not even humans, they are animals.” He also expressed no remorse for the killings in a September 2017 interview with USA Today, saying that the only massacre was “a massacre of justice” against him and calling himself “a POW in my own country.”

The New York Times reported in May that Trump was considering issuing pardons for several American military members convicted or accused of war crimes, including Slatten. The Daily Beast subsequently reported that Hegseth was personally lobbying Trump for the pardons.