Drenched in Blackwater
Two years after Blackwater’s Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad, President Obama awards the perpetrators a $174 million contract renewal.
Blackwater, for those unaware, is a “security contracting” service, heavily patronized by the US, who comprises a sizable portion of our combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan. Donald Rumsfeld once expressed a wish to “privatize” the US military, and Blackwater is that result: paid, independent contractors – mercenaries, really – who kill for cash. The author of the above linked article, Jeremy Scahill, wrote an entire book on the organization (entitled, conventionally enough, “Blackwater”), which is a must-read for anyone interested in the legal issues surrounding our adventures abroad.
Though Blackwater has operated since 1995, seeing their first action in Bosnia, they were very much a clandestine organization, only rarely appearing in print. The public did not truly become aware of their existence until 2007, when they wantonly murdered 16 Iraqis in Nisour Square. We learned then of a peculiarity in our legal structure. It turned out that military law does not make provisions for mercenary forces – they are outside US legal jurisdiction, and can essentially do as they please. A small outcry was raised, senate hearings scheduled, but then the elections began and everyone promptly forgot about Blackwater. Obama campaigned on a platform of “change”, and those who were worried about mercenaries likely assured themselves that Candidate Obama shared their concerns.
Well, the election has come and gone, and if Candidate Obama spoke out against Blackwater, President Obama signs their paychecks. The insidious aspect of this organization is not that they kill and maim (though that, surely, is insidious enough), it is that they symbolize lawlessness, and promote it in the countries where they operate. We cannot make even a pretense of respect for rule of law if our own paid forces are able to murder without recourse.
The culprits in the unfortunate Nisour case were shamed and prosecuted (though I am not sure if anything came of it). They do not represent an isolated case, however. I would not be surprised to learn of thousands of such killings. They are a fixture of mercenary combat.
The State Department has made various noises that they are “working on the problem” and that Blackwater is being “transitioned out”, but very little concrete action has come forth. Most tellingly, the Obama Administration has not seen fit to review military law in order to bring Blackwater under its jurisdiction. He is happy, I suppose, to leave them outside legal recourse. One less headache for the State Department.