Iraq: Legal Action Against Blackwater Contractors

The Iraqi government said on Sunday it had found that Blackwater contractors “deliberately killed” 17 unarmed civilians in Baghdad last month, and said legal action would be taken against the contractors and the company.

Earlier reports had put the death toll from the September 16 shooting at 11.

Blackwater has repeatedly insisted that its contractors were forced to shoot back when they came under small arms fire.

However, one US official who spent nearly two years in Iraq said this weekend that firing without provocation was business as usual for Blackwater contractors, because they are trained to treat every Iraqi as a potential terrorist.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the investigation into the September 16 incident had found no evidence to back up Blackwater’s story.

“What they committed is considered a crime of deliberate killing and they must be held accountable according to the law,” said Mr Dabbagh, adding that there was “no evidence that the Blackwater convoy came under any direct or indirect fire, or that it was even hit by stones”.

Former US official Janessa Gans said that during her time in Iraq she often wondered how many enemies Blackwater created on a daily basis as they careened through towns with reckless disregard for life and property.

In an opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times on Saturday, Ms Gans recalled “one particularly infuriating time” when Blackwater contractors escorting her convoy “heedlessly” rammed a car carrying a family with children into a barrier, because there was no room for them to pull over.

“The lead Suburban in our convoy loomed up behind an old, puttering sedan driven by an older man with a young woman and three children. As we approached at typical breakneck speed, the Blackwater driver honked furiously and motioned to the side, as if they should pull over. The kids in the back seat looked back in horror, mouths agape at the sight of the heavily armored Suburbans driven by large, armed men in dark sunglasses. The poor Iraqi driver frantically searched for a means of escape, but there was none. So the lead Blackwater vehicle smashed heedlessly into the car, pushing it into the barrier. We zoomed by too quickly to notice if anyone was hurt.”

When she objected, the contractors told her that their training called for them to treat all Iraqis as potential terrorists. Ms Gans replied: “If they weren’t terrorists before, they certainly are now.”

Ms Gans had once heard former US Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte, now the Deputy Secretary of State, trying to persuade contractors to show more care as they barrelled down the roads.

“He was frequently exasperated,” said Ms Gans. “He would say, ‘Is that necessary?’ ”

Top military commanders have also complained that the contractors’ intimidating behavior has significantly hurt the counterinsurgency mission.

The State Department is now being accused of ignoring years of repeated warnings from US commanders and diplomats that the behavior of Blackwater contractors – and their lack of accountability –was a “a bomb that could go off at any time”.

On Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered that supervision be stepped up for Blackwater in Iraq, including the installation of cameras in its convoys.

Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives appears to share the Iraqi government’s view that more supervision is not enough, and holding contractors accountable for their actions is the most effective means of preventing the needless endangerment of human life.

The House approved legislation on Thursday by an overwhelming vote of 389-30 that would make private contractors in Iraq subject to US criminal law.

Similar legislation will be introduced in the Senate in the coming weeks.

Sources: Reuters, The Los Angeles Times

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