Thursday, 4 October 2007

Blackwater denies "reckless behavior"

The founder and CEO of U.S. security firm Blackwater USA has spent the past two days being grilled by a Congressional Panel over the performance of his company's 1,100 operatives in Iraq. His company is accused of killing 17 unarmed civilian Iraqis in a shootout on the streets of Baghdad on Sept. 16.

At the same time, the U.S. House of Representatives is about to vote on a bill that would put U.S. contractors in Iraq under U.S. legal jurisdiction so they could be tried in American courts.

This article first published by Ohmynews International

The White House has said the bill would put undue pressure on the U.S. military and the FBI which would have to investigate the cases. Officials have already gone on record as saying that if the bill makes it to President Bush's desk, he will veto it.

This will effectively maintain the status quo where these armed security groups essentially have carte blanche to break the law, and even commit murder.

Under the terms of the Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 17 promulgated in June, 2003, coalition staff, both military and civilian contractors are exempted from Iraqi legal action.

Brian Becker, a co-founder of the Answer Coalition, an association of some 200 anti-war and anti-racism groups, says the Blackwater incident is a clear indication of the lack of sovereignty enjoyed by the Iraqi government, "It was a dramatic revelation of the lack of authority of a government to control private hired guns who are killing its own people."

Becker said, "The Blackwater company is only accountable to itself and its own relationship with the Bush administration. They've basically been given a license to kill."

Order 17 and Bush's determination to block legislation that would regulate the estimated 180,000 private security contractors in Iraq means the situation will remain the same into the foreseeable future, a frightening prospect for many.

Members of the House panel investigating Blackwater say their activities have raised alarm bells at home, and among senior military officials in Iraq . A letter from Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "While the incidents may be uncommon, they have a disproportionate effect on the Iraqi people."

While some contractors are employed by the Pentagon, Blackwater is contracted by the U.S. State Department. It does not come under U.S. military jurisdiction in Iraq , it escapes Iraqi jurisdiction under Order 17 and cannot be prosecuted back in the United States .

Critics say their "cowboy" behavior is causing more harm than good and they should be sent home.

Erik Prince denied his people were trigger happy cowboys, despite being involved in almost 200 gunbattles since 2005.

It was pointed out that the reported 195 shooting incidents actually represented only about one percent of the total missions carried out by Blackwater security personnel in Iraq where they are contracted to guard embassy personnel and VIP visitors.

Having said that, Prince said 30 Blackwater employees have been killed while on duty in the war torn country. He added, with a hint of pride, that none of the "packages" – or people assigned to him to protect, have been lost or injured during Blackwater's time in Iraq .

But amid accusations of reckless and irresponsible behavior, some startling facts and inconsistencies began to appear.

Prince insisted his men only opened fire in self defense and never initiated a gunbattle. However, State Department reports say Blackwater opened fire first in some 80 percent of the incidents it was involved in. The reports contradict the statements by Prince and observers say this discrepancy suggests there may be a case to answer.

There have also been accusations of a cover up of other fatal exchanges of gunfire involving Blackwater over the past two years. A House of Representatives official says the State Department may have helped to cover up the shootings. Blackwater and the State Department vigorously denied the charges.

Prince admitted that sometimes things do go wrong and civilians are injured. He also noted that a number of employees had been fired over the past couple of years for various offenses that were not detailed. No Blackwater employee has been prosecuted for any incidents involving the shooting or Iraqi civilians in the country.

The Sept. 16 incident is still under investigation by the FBI and the Iraqi authorities, despite the fact they have no authority to bring charges. If indeed the House panel decides there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Blackwater or its employees, the question will then be raised about where those charges will be heard.

Certainly, under the current rules, no court in Iraq or in the United States has jurisdiction.

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1 comment:

Lillian said...

The Blackwater Company should definitely be sent back to the US and stand on trial. They can’t go unpunished. But it’s quite unlikely to bring them to justice, at least for now. However their boss denies the truth, he and his men are sure to get what they deserve one day. God will punish them, if humans won’t or can’t. Such a killing company shouldn’t have been formed in the first place. But even if it didn’t exist, the situation on the ground for the Iraqis would be the same, for there would be tons of organizations doing the same thing Blackwater is doing there, just under other names. There’s no way the problem could be solved.