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Mercenary Immunity

Daytona Beach News Journal (2007-11-06)

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Tarnishing Iraq mission by covering up for Blackwater

November 06, 2007

When it comes to the Bush administration's definition of "sovereignty," "immunity" and "accountability," Iraqi authorities must be wondering whether they're losing something in the translation.

BACKGROUND: On Sept. 16, a convoy of the United States Agency for International Development was traveling through central Baghdad. It was escorted by private security guards employed by Blackwater Worldwide, the North Carolina-based mercenary company. There was a distant explosion. Blackwater's guards overreacted. They started shooting, and they called in one of their helicopter gunships, which also shot up the place. Seventeen Iraqis were killed and incinerated in their vehicles, including women and children, and 27 more were wounded.

Iraqi authorities called Blackwater's action "unprovoked" and termed it "murder." Blackwater said its guards were responding to "armed insurgents and our personnel acted lawfully and appropriately in a war zone protecting American lives." No evidence of a sniper hostile to the convoy was found.

Iraqi authorities immediately pulled Blackwater's license. But Blackwater is still operating in Iraq. Iraqi authorities demanded that Blackwater's act be held to account. But the State Department, investigating the Sept. 16 killing spree, gave Blackwater immunity from prosecution.

BREMER'S CONTRADICTION: A June 17, 2004, memorandum by L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority at the time, stated unequivocally that private armies like Blackwater had to be licensed through the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, and that they could not operate in Iraq without a license. The CPA was the Iraqi government until it transferred sovereignty back to Iraqis later that month. Every CPA order and memorandum had the force of law, and still does, unless those orders are superseded by acts of the Iraqi government. But on June 27, 2004, just one day before the CPA transferred sovereignty back to Iraq, Bremer signed another order. That one gave immunity from prosecution, under Iraqi law, to "private security companies" like Blackwater as long as employees of those companies were acting within the purview of their job. Until Oct. 30, when the Iraqi cabinet voted to override that order, Bremer's edict was law.

The contradiction between Bremer's June 27 order and his previous requirement that private armies be licensed remains unresolved. Immunity in Iraq doesn't mean immunity from all laws, however. Blackwater's employees still must answer to American law. But the State Department -- which is paying more than $4 billion a year to private security contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of it to Blackwater and Dyn Corp, a Texas-based company like Blackwater -- further mucked up the case by offering Blackwater immunity from American prosecution in the case. And the best that the Bush administration could do to satisfy Iraqi demands for accountability was give the Pentagon more authority over America's private armies. The Pentagon will require more training for them and set clearer standards on their use of force.

CLEAR TRANSLATION: But Blackwater, whose 900-odd guards have "fired their weapons 195 times since 2005," according to The New York Times, "leaving an undetermined number of Iraqis dead," is still in Iraq. So are other private armies. As Iraqis must see it, the men responsible for keeping the coalition's rebuilding efforts secure are among the men feared most in Iraq. And the Americans responsible for fostering law-abiding and accountable institutions in Iraq are among those flouting those responsibilities the most. Here's what's not lost in translation: All that American bluster about respect for the law and civility and accountability amounts to zilch when it comes to covering for American rears.
Topic revision: r2 - 10 Nov 2007, RaymondLutz
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