Thursday, September 27, 2007

Blackwater

Yes, this is another political rant. If you were looking for more cute pictures of the grandson, sorry, maybe next time!

Blackwater USA has been in the news a lot lately. They're the company that supplies security forces to contractors and embassy people in Iraq. Blackwater guys were involved this past week in a big shootout in Baghdad that killed somewhere between 11 and 20 Iraqi civilians. It has caused a big stink in both Iraq and Washington.

Actually, this has been a landmine waiting to go off for years. Consider: the security force people that Blackwater and other companies recruit are Special Forces, SEALs, and other guys who've been highly trained in special warfare and exotic ways to kill people. They're given lots of weapons and carte blanche authority to use them. And they've been removed from the annoyances of any legal restraints. They can go anywhere, do anything, and nobody can (or will) do anything about it.

Think I'm making this up? Think again. Our military forces (even the Special Forces that Blackwater recruits from) fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If they kill or rape civilians or do something else that normal people like you and me consider a crime, they're prosecuted. The Marines involved in the shootings in Haditha are an example. Even our CIA guys are government agents and fall under government rules of conduct.

But private security firms don't. They aren't on US territory anymore, so they don't come under US laws. And an order by the Coalition Provisional Authority cuts them out of the Iraqi legal system. It says, "Contractors shall be immune from Iraqi legal process with respect to acts performed by them pursuant to the terms and conditions of a Contract or any sub-contract thereto." In other words, as long as they're performing their duties, Iraq can't touch 'em.

And after four years of war, with thousands of private security guys running around the country, not one has had any charges filed against him. For anything. And then consider whether it's reasonable none of these private-contractor Rambos would be so squeaky clean.

So the situation is perfectly designed for abuse. And Blackwater is a particularly egregious company. They have repeatedly stonewalled Congressional inquiries and outright lied when they finally got there. (See CNN reports here and here). Even when some of their people were killed, they covered up details to the families and to investigators (see another report here).

So it's way way way past time for Congress, the Pentagon, and the State Department to rein in these cowboys. The Pentagon and the State Department can do a lot right now if they really want to, just by changing or enforcing some of their own rules. Congress needs to craft a much stronger legal framework with some real teeth.

Private security forces aren't a bad thing in themselves. But give a Rambo a gun and remove any accountability, and you're asking for disaster. Now we've got the disaster, so let's fix it.

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