Another eight Iraqi civilian casualties were exacted this week at the hands of under-trained and over-armed mercenaries under no control by their host nation or its military.
The only difference between this catastrophe and all others plaguing the nation is that these mercenaries were Americans.
Blackwater, a North Carolina-based mercenary organization, was responsible Sunday for opening fire on an entire crowd of civilians after receiving fire from an unknown source, killing eight and wounding 14.
Though Blackwater has been responsible for at least four other unjustified civilian death cases, Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Kareem Khalaf showed Iraq’s frustration with the company – and US mercenaries in general – by stating publicly, “this is the last and the biggest mistake. Security contracts do not allow them to shoot people randomly. They are here to protect personnel, not shoot people without reason.”
Khalaf continued that the Iraqi government has revoked their license to operate in Iraq.
However, this action shed light on an interesting loophole regarding punishment for security contractors: the Iraqi government has no jurisdiction over them.
A regulation known as Order 17, established under the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority headed by L. Paul Bremer, grants American private security contractors immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts.
This most recent incident has sparked congressional frustration regarding regulation of private security in Iraq.
California Rep. Price was quoted this week as saying “There is no question that the lack of transparency and accountability for security contractor operations, particularly the lack of legal options for prosecuting egregious misconduct, have significantly damaged our efforts in Iraq and put our troops at greater risk.”
Even though heinous international crimes were committed against civilians of a nation by those of another, neither the Iraqi government, nor international courts, can pursue the case and must be satisfied with an administrative “fair and transparent” probe into the murders.
A few months ago, Blackwater had to suffer one of these investigations for killing civilians and engaging in a standoff with Iraqi Interior Ministry guards.
The investigation fizzled as soon as pressure from the Interior Ministry was relieved.
Blackwater’s seeming immunity from war crime prosecution appears to parallel the US military’s ability to engage in questionable activity in the name of self-defense. The only difference is that soldiers in the military can still be prosecuted at home.
The Congressional Research Service provided an unsettling report on the legal standing of mercenaries engaged in murder, uncovering “the apparent lack of a practical means to hold contractors accountable under U.S. law for abuses and other transgressions.”
Private security officers have been infamous throughout the war for over-aggressiveness and an apparent lack of concern for innocent civilian lives. But with a proverbial license to kill and immunity from prosecution in every court in the world, what reason do they have to be otherwise?
The Interior Ministry of Iraq and the Prime Minister himself have put enormous pressure this week on US administration to allow mercenaries to be tried under Iraqi law. Though we will probably refuse to listen to their pleas, legal action must be taken against those responsible for these deaths.
I do not advocate their vulnerability to Iraqi courts. An American mercenary sent to an Iraqi prison would suffer unimaginable tortures at the hands of other inmates.
Rather, they must be held accountable in the United States and tried, fairly, for murder as if they had committed it in any other nation. This, at least, would show the Iraqi people – and the rest of the Middle East – that we treat their rights, and any infraction thereof, seriously.
We must start to respect Iraqi lives, or the Iraqis will never respect, or protect, ours.
Phil Elder is a senior political science major. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com