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September 24, 2007

If Blackwater Escapes Accountability, American Credibility Suffers


After a bunch of Blackwater security contractors opened fire on Iraqi civilians, Iraq’s government looked on the verge of taking a stand. The firm would be forced to leave Iraq, it said in an announcement . . . that no one really believed.

“I can only imagine how Americans would react if there were Russian, Chinese, Mexican, or French security firms running around the United States and getting into firefights in tough neighborhoods, such as South Central Los Angeles,” wrote former CIA analyst Larry Johnson, on the popular progressive blog Talking Points Memo’s TPM Cafe. “We would just shrug our shoulders and say nothing. Right? Yeah, that’s what I thought. This incident will enrage Iraqis and their subsequent realization that they are impotent to do anything about it will do little to support the fantasy that the surge is working. There are some Iraqis who genuinely want to run their own country. But we are not about to give them the keys to the car. Blackwater is staying.” 

On Sunday, Iraq’s government acknowledged that Blackwater’s departure wasn’t so imminent.

The reason is simple. We need Blackwater, and so does the Iraqi government. There are simply not enough warm bodies.


Complicating this is the fact that Iraqi authorities concluded that, despite claims of self-defense, Blackwater’s guy opened fire first. In fact, they said they have video.


Unfortunately, they exist in a kind of legal gray area, and soon after the incident, a debate raged over just who had authority to bring those accused of illegal killings to trial. We might need them, but the question is whether this in itself is such a good thing.


There might be financial advantages to privatizing some of the things Blackwater does, like static security, but GIs have one huge advantage over a private security force – accountability.


Say what you will about Abu Ghraib, but at least there was a trial – transparent and open. Late last year, an off-duty Blackwater guard shot a bodyguard for Iraq’s vice president, and was returned to the United States. He didn’t stand trial.


Unfortunately, someone pays the pound of flesh. If it doesn’t come by way of prison sentence, the hit is taken from the credibility of the nation they serve.


There is little doubt who Blackwater serves. The guy who runs Blackwater isn’t just an American, he’s also related to the DeVos family of Amway fame (brother-in-law Dick unsuccessfully vied for the governorship of Michigan last November) and is a big contributor to the Republican Party. In short, no one’s mistaking Blackwater as anything but an American firm. So, when Blackwater’s security guards kill civilians and aren’t held accountable, it reflects poorly on us.


This, in turn, makes it harder for us to achieve our goals. Each time they get away with murder, it erodes the good name of the United States. Each time they get away with it and are allowed to stick around, it erodes the credibility of the Iraqi government.


It’s a self-feeding cycle, and every time Blackwater lands in trouble, everyone else pays for it. Blackwater just gets paid.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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