Here is the original version of the editorial that ran on Op-Ed News. They had an exclusive for at least 48 hours on the pithier version – and it ran five days ago.
Note the current status of the situation:
1. There is now a video that shows that Blackwater USA guards opened fire against civilians without provocation.
2. Blackwater is denying charges of arms smuggling.
3. Blackwater is back up and running in Iraq.
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Finally, the government in Iraq has made a brilliant move. Because of this latest incident of civilian killings, they’ve “canceled Blackwater’s license” and demanded that all Blackwater employees leave Iraq. This is long overdue.
It’s true that the wording doesn’t work. Blackwater doesn’t appear to need a license from the Iraqi government to protect American officials. But if Blackwater still has immunity from crimes, and is free from prosecution in Iraq or here, then I really don’t see why the Iraqis cannot make a good case for their right to expel them from the country.
I don’t think any little phone call from Condi is going to change their minds.
Nothing should make them back down on this, no matter how they are pressured to do so. We have no case for supporting Blackwater’s presence. It would be just a silly show of power to insist.
Yes, the US is heavily dependent on heavily armed private contractors. Some claim that
private personnel on the US government payroll outnumber official US troops. At the same time, our government has granted them a special status with no formal accountability or oversight from Congress or anyone else. They have total immunity from Iraqi criminal prosecution (a provision that was only expected to last for a couple of months). It’s past time we changed that anyway.
“There’s no visibility on these contractors,” says Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. “Meaning no clue how much money we’re spending. They are carrying out mission-sensitive activities with virtually no oversight whatsoever.”
No American security contractor has been prosecuted in the United States or Iraq, although there have been many incidents where such security contractors have shot and killed Iraqi civilians.
The incident reports were a whitewash, and nobody did anything about it,” he said, adding that there have been a few cases where Blackwater and other companies have fired workers for killing civilians, but those same workers were back in Iraq with another company in a few months.
It is widely known, both here and in Iraq, that the Sunni Fallujah massacre (note: new link added 9-23) was revenge for the killing of four Blackwater employees in March 2004. The death toll from that attack was severe – some claim there were as many as 100,000 casualties.
Given that, it must have been a slap in the face for Iraq to hear U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker praise Blackwater in his testimony to Congress last week.
Iraqis hate Blackwater, not just because of Fallujah, but because Blackwater is clearly immune – and irresponsible – and uncontrollable. Blackwater employees seem to be able to get away with whatever they feel like doing. They are a terrible face for America. Even other security companies dislike Blackwater.
“They are untouchable. They’ve shot up other private security contractors, Iraqi military, police and civilians,” said one security contractor, who declined to give his name because of the sensitivity of the issue.
One contractor described an incident three weeks ago in which a four-vehicle Blackwater convoy pushed through a crowded Baghdad street and pointed a gun at his team, even though they waved an American flag — an indicator used by security contractors to identify themselves to one another.
There have been several fatal shootings involving Blackwater since late last year. On Christmas Eve, a Blackwater employee walking in the Green Zone stopped by an Iraqi checkpoint and, after an argument, fatally shot an Iraqi guard for Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi, said an Iraqi official and a U.S. diplomat.
If I were an Iraqi, I wouldn’t care for Blackwater – at all. As an American, I don’t care for any of the private security forces, but Blackwater has become the iconic example for me of the results of “privatization” – lack of accountability or oversight or transparency, criminality/immunity, rampant corruption and war profiteering.
Of course, the US government backs the private forces in their shadow war – Blackwater more than any other company – but Iraq has the right to expel people from their own country. They can’t expel the military forces, but why can’t they kick out Blackwater?
This would give the federal government in Iraq a big boost. It might bring people together in Iraq if they felt that they do have a say in what happens in their own country – and I think ethics is on their side.
From the American side, this would refocus resentment on a single company rather than on the entire American presence. And it would show that we – sometimes – might mean what we say about our motives there. It would be a wise move all around to support Blackwater’s exit.
Jawad al-Bolani, the interior minister, said: “This is such a big crime that we can’t stay silent. Anyone who wants to have good relations with Iraq has to respect Iraqis.”
He told al-Arabiya television that foreign contractors “must respect Iraqi laws and the right of Iraqis to independence on their land. These cases have happened more than once and we can’t keep silent in the face of them”.
It’s about time that Iraq challenged the US over this blanket immunity deal – especially since Americans have done nothing about it.
Iraq’s national security advisor, Mowaffak Rubaie, said the Iraqi government should use the incident to look into overhauling private security guards’ immunity from Iraqi courts, which was granted by Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer III in 2003 and later extended ahead of Iraq’s return to sovereignty.
Order 17 gives all foreign personnel in the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority immunity from “local criminal, civil and administrative jurisdiction and from any form of arrest or detention other than by persons acting on behalf of their parent states.” U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer is expected to extend Order 17 as one of his last acts before shutting down the occupation next week, U.S. officials said. The order is expected to last an additional six or seven months, until the first national elections are held.
Any decent strategist could tell you that ousting Blackwater from Iraq is a win-win situation for both America and Iraq. The cost is small – Blackwater only has about a thousand people there now, and they are all over the rest of the world anyway. It wouldn’t even cut into their profit margin. Bush says he wants to see the government pull together – well, here’s a good start. It could end up being a real turning point, a gift to the Administration.
Are they too self-absorbed and arrogant to understand that?
Blackwater was founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL and son of a wealthy Michigan auto-parts supplier. The company, headquartered in Moyock, N.C., on a 7,000-acre compound, has deeply rooted political connections in Washington.
It counts former top CIA and Defense Department officials, including Cofer Black, former director of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, and Joseph Schmitz, former Pentagon inspector general, among its executives. Blackwater’s legal team once included Fred Fielding, now White House counsel, and now includes Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who investigated the Monica Lewinsky and Whitewater scandals during the Clinton administration.
Erik Prince is also an extreme right-wing fundamentalist “Christian” mega-millionaire.
Maybe this administration is just too deep into the inherent corruption of the whole situation to be able to do the smart thing for everyone. Well, what will happen if they don’t? Think it through. The US can’t get away with another Fallujah now.
There is yet another solution. Is anyone at Blackwater smart enough to know when to move out? Here’s a hint: Now.
Recommended Viewing and Reading:
Jeremy Scahill describes the rise of Blackwater USA, the world’s most powerful mercenary army.