Evan Liberty was reading in his cell one evening late, in December, when a prison supervisor came to him and broke the news to him.
“He says, ‘Are you ready for this?’” Liberty recalled. “I said, ‘Uh, I’m not sure. What is going on?’ He said, ‘Presidential pardon. Pack your stuff.’”, a report by The Associated Press (AP) stated.
One of four former Blackwater contractors, Liberty got pardoned by President Donald Trump in one of Trump’s final acts in office. This freed them from prison after a 2007 shooting rampage in Baghdad that killed more than a dozen Iraqi civilians. Trump’s clemency for the contractors has received intense condemnation, both in the United States and the Middle East.
Previously, presidential pardons have been reserved for nonviolent crimes, excluding manslaughter or murder, and the traditional process led by the Justice Department values acceptance of responsibility and remorse from those convicted of crimes. The Blackwater contractors meet none of those criteria. They were convicted in the killings of unarmed Iraqi women and children and have long been defiant in their assertions of innocence, said a report by AP.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Liberty, 38, expressed little remorse for actions, he asserts the actions were defensible given the context.
He talked about his conduct in 2007,
“I feel like I acted correctly, I regret any innocent loss of life, but I’m just confident in how I acted and I can basically feel peace with that.”
Liberty said he understands many may see him not worthy of clemency but attributes it to what he insists is a misguided narrative of the shooting. In the interview, he maintained that he did not shoot in the direction of any of the victims. “I didn’t shoot at anybody that wasn’t shooting at me,” he said.
He said he and the others would “never take an innocent life. We responded to a threat accordingly.”
Evan’s 30-year sentence was cut by roughly half last year. He isn’t certain how he came to be pardoned and said he has not spoken with Trump. But the group does have supporters, some with ties to the White House. The Blackwater firm, whose name has since changed, was established by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince, a Trump ally whose sister, Betsy DeVos, is education secretary. Their cause also was championed by Fox News personnel, Pete Hegseth, an Army veteran.
According to the AP’s report, Trump’s choices to pardon have been influenced by personal appeals from allies. During his tenure, the signed pardons wiped away punishments for political backers, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a pair of Republican congressmen who were early supporters of his 2016 campaign.
After six years behind bars, Liberty had tried to not get his hopes up about a pardon. “Dumbfounded” when the news came, he grabbed a photograph of his grandfather, a list of Spanish vocabulary he’d been studying and a motivational book on discipline, leaving the rest behind.
The New Hampshire native and Marine veteran said he is uncertain of future plans, though he’s passionate about physical fitness and interested in assisting veterans’ organizations. He says he’s thankful to his supporters and to Trump for what he called a “second chance at life.”
“I feel like it’s my duty to go out and do something positive and live a good life because they gave me a second chance, so that’s basically my goal.”
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