Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Old Blackwater, Keep on Rollin

The Blackwater incident is spreading. The investigation into Blackwater has turned into an investigation into all of the mercenary groups operating in Iraq.

If you ask me, this isn't about 8 Iraqi civilians. That was just the opening that the Iraqi government needed to flex their muscles on this. This was just one incident in a series of many, but it was a juicy one. It's going to be hard for the U.S. to simultaneously say that they are in favor of the rule of law and argue that cop killers should get off scott free... but if anyone is a master of that kind of doublespeak, it's Condi Rice, and she's been kind of quiet since arguing that it was too soon for the Israelis to stop killing Lebanese civilians.

Here's the payoff for the Iraqi government: these mercenary groups are operating in a legal void. They're not real soldiers, they just play them on TV, so they don't fall under the jurisdiction of the US military code of justice. They're not in the U.S., so U.S. law doesn't apply. And thanks to Paul Bremmer, they don't fall under Iraqi law either.

That's got to stick in your craw if you have a couple of thousand of these trigger-happy assholes running around shooting up your capital on any given day, and now Blackwater has given the Iraqi government the leverage they need to do something about it. Starting with the perfectly reasonable premise that shooting cops and civilians is a bad thing, they are going to look at all of these mercenaries hired by the United States to see if they are "operating in compliance with Iraqi law". Even if they can't prosecute them, the government can at least terminate their license to operate in Iraq and kick them out of the country.

But it gets juicier. Not only have they sent all of the Blackwater boys home except for the ones under investigation, they've managed to parley this debacle into a promise from the U.S. to hold any wrongdoers accountable. That sounds like this mess is headed toward a trial of some sort, which means that they'll have to be charged under some set of laws. That should finally define the legal status of these mercenary groups, plucking them neatly out of the cozy little void in which they've been operating.

And here's the big payoff: the logical choice of jurisdiction would be the Iraqi courts. The U.S. has a huge incentive not to admit that these clowns are acting as an extension of the U.S. military, which would tend to rule out the military courts. Baghdad is clearly not in the United States, and the U.S. has a long standing policy of avoiding the jurisdiction of the ICJ, so if the mercenaries are going to be charged, the Iraqi courts seem to be just about the only place left to do it. If that happens, then the provision giving them immunity has to go, and the all of the resource-looting, sovereignty-undermining provisions passed by CPA in their final hours are suddenly on shaky ground.

And that's probably the whole point of this exercise, if you ask me.


A Ghost's Story said...

I don't pretend to know anything about politics, but I think you might be on to something right there in paragraph 1 when you say "mercenaries." Somehow, "shoot first, ask questions later" seems to me like it's in the dictionary definition of "mercenaries." I hate to say it, but I wasn't surprised when I read this. Saddened, sure, but not surprised.

Writeprocrastinator said...

See, now this makes sense.

Johnny Yen said...

Just part of their whole scheme to always have it both ways. With the Blackwater mercenaries, oh, I mean "private contractors," they didn't have to count them as casualties, nor as money spent on the war. This whole thing has been rife with this, from holding "enemy combatants" without charge on a contested piece of land (Guantanamo), with kidnappings, secret transits of prisoners, torture-- it's as if the Bushies were hell-bent on proving that this country was exactly as evil as the "evil-doers" claimed.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Nice analysis. I will be surprised if the US lets our contractors be charged under Iraqi law. That would be a huge surrender of control.

deadspot said...

On NPR the other day, they mentioned that these companies don't like being called mercenaries, but they couldn't really provide a clear distinction that didn't have a faint whiff of BS about it.

That's what I thought, WP.

No kidding, Johnny. It's amazing that they have gotten away with so much for so long.

Thanks, Vikki. I should have been more clear. I don't know that they'll succeed, but I think that's what they're shooting for. I'll be surprised if it actually gets that far too, but the Bushies are in a pretty tight corner here, and it'll be interesting to see how they weasel out of it. (Assuming they don't just talk a good game and wait for the whole thing to blow over...)

Apparently, Blackwater has been involved in 7 or 8 incidents like this, and there are a bunch of other companies too. I heard a bit on NPR over the summer (was it This American Life, maybe?) where they were talking to some of these contractors. The contractors were talking about an incident where they fired several hundred rounds before they realized that there had never been any insurgents: they had been shooting at each other the whole time.

In another interview, an Iraqi traffic cop was talking about the fact that these convoys just tear through the streets without any concern for traffic lights or stop signs or people who get in their way. He said all he can do when they come through is hope he can get out of their way without getting shot or run over.

With stuff like that going on all the time, it's no wonder that they're looking for a way to get a handle on this.

Dale said...

I didn't read the post but I love the song.

deadspot said...

Well... so much for that.