Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Editorial: Lack of Accountability

http://www.arabnews.com/?page=7§ion=0&article=103031&d=31&m=10&y=2007

31 October 2007

The news yesterday that the US State Department had promised immunity to Blackwater security personnel involved in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad last month is both shocking and beyond belief. But should we really be surprised, considering that the Bush administration has treated Iraq as a colony since the 2003 invasion? Not really.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been promising a thorough investigation of the deadly fiasco committed by hyped-up American mercenaries who have a long history of being trigger-happy, testosterone-driven killing machines. But it now seems that those Blackwater personnel who let loose a barrage of bullets on Sept. 16 in Nisour Square, killing innocent Iraqis as they turned and tried to flee from the square, are never going to be held accountable. The worst that can happen to them is to be fired from Blackwater — which is what happened to the Blackwater employee who killed a guard of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in a fit of drunken rage on Christmas Eve in 2004.

The Democrats have now lambasted the Bush administration for failing to hold Blackwater accountable. Sen. Patrick Leahy says, “In this administration, accountability goes by the boards.” Which is not really surprising, considering the deep ties that run between Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, and the Republican Party. He and his family have given the party more than $325,000 in political donations over the past 10 years, and have hired some high-profile former Bush administration officials to work at Blackwater. Which perhaps explains why the State Department has made Blackwater the main provider of security for its embassy staff in Iraq, and why it recently gave the company a new contract for even more security work in Iraq. According to statistics compiled by the US media, Blackwater has been involved in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, most of them from moving vehicles where they did not bother to stop and check to see how many Iraqis they had maimed or killed. In two cases, Blackwater paid compensation to the families of victims and tried to cover up the other incidents. That Blackwater has long been the most irresponsible and violent security group in Iraq has been well-known to both Iraqis and foreign journalists in the country, even though their nasty tactics became apparent to the wider world only after the bloodbath that they caused on Sept. 16.

The Iraqi Parliament is now trying to repeal Order 17, the law put in place by former US viceroy L. Paul Bremer III in 2003, which gives immunity to private security contractors. It seems doubtful, however, that they will be able to repeal the law without consent from their masters in Washington.

That private security guards in Iraq are exempt from any law in the world, allowing them to kill at will, beggars belief. Even American soldiers are subject to US military law and have been held accountable in US military courts for unlawful killings and torture committed in Iraq. Why Blackwater and its overpaid soldiers of fortune should be above US law, let alone Iraqi law, is something that the Bush administration is going to have to fix extra-quick if they want to retain even the tiniest shred of a reputation for decency.

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