New Scrutiny for Iraq Mercenaries

Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army
“Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army” (Jeremy Scahill)

Mercenaries in Iraq are apparently exempt from local laws against murder, if not officially, then with a nudge and a wink.

Who is Blackwater you ask?

The current investigation of the Green Zone incident could pose problems for Blackwater. Best known for protecting dignitaries like former American proconsul Paul Bremer and current U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Blackwater has hundreds of employees in Iraq and maintains its own helicopters, airplanes and armored vehicles there.

The company was created in 1997 by Erik Prince, a Michigan native and former Navy SEAL whose father was a wealthy auto-parts supplier. Mr. Prince is a political conservative who has donated more than $100,000 to Republican candidates and campaigns since the mid-1990s, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Yochi J. Dreazen of the Wall Street Journal writes (in part):

New Scrutiny for Iraq Contractors - :

A Blackwater USA contractor's killing of an Iraqi security guard is putting new pressure on the Bush administration to prosecute private-company employees accused of crimes in Iraq, and highlighting the murky legal status of the 130,000 foreign contractors working there.
The Christmas Eve shooting is one of the few known cases of an American contractor killing an employee of the Iraqi government, and it remains one of the rare lethal shootings inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone. Criminal charges in the case, which is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department, would be unprecedented. To date, no U.S. contractor has been put on trial for murdering an Iraqi.

The incident began when an off-duty Blackwater employee who had been drinking heavily tried to make his way into the “Little Venice” section of the Green Zone, which houses many senior members of the Iraqi government, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials. He was stopped by Iraqi bodyguards for Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the country's Shiite vice president, and shot one of the Iraqis, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials. The bodyguard died at the scene, the officials say.
Only two contractors out of the tens of thousands who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 5½ years have been indicted for violence, and only one has been convicted. Given the aggressive tactics contractors use in both countries, where they routinely force vehicles off the road or shoot at cars that draw too close to them, Democrats and Iraqi officials say there should be more indictments and convictions.

“This is one of the biggest grey areas of the entire war effort,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.), the sponsor of legislation requiring the Bush administration to collect and publicize detailed data about contractors. “There are almost as many contractors in Iraq as soldiers, and they seem to be entirely outside the reach of the law.”

The company has reason to tread carefully. Aides to Mr. Abdul-Mahdi say relatives of the victim are nearly certain to file a civil lawsuit in the U.S. against Blackwater, which is already embroiled in a pair of high-profile suits. In the first case, relatives of three U.S. soldiers killed in a crash of a Blackwater airplane in Afghanistan are suing a Blackwater affiliate for negligence in a Florida court. In the second, relatives of four Blackwater security guards killed in Fallujah, Iraq, are suing the company for wrongful death in a state court in North Carolina.

The Afghanistan lawsuit is being closely watched in legal circles because its outcome could help determine the extent of contractor liability in civil cases arising from their government work. The criminal investigation into the Green Zone shooting is also largely uncharted territory, since it remains unclear what -- if any -- law applies to the American contractors operating in Iraq. Congress last year passed legislation allowing contractors to be tried under the military's Uniform Code of Military Justice. But no American contractors have faced such charges, and U.S. officials concede it is unclear whether it would even be legal to use military law to try civilians.

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This page contains a single entry by swanksalot published on May 16, 2007 11:44 AM.

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