Unleashing Blackwater, an armed and unregulated group of former U.S. military personnel, to represent America in Iraq, exposes the country to easily preventable blame.
The organization, which trains U.S. civilians to supplement the military, touts a belief that it provides service our armed forces cannot.
“We are a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping and stability operations firm who provides turnkey solutions,” according to the organization’s Web site. In reality, the organization escapes the oversight needed to harness any armed unit.
This gross oversight results in the loss of Iraqi civilian life and further erodes Iraq’s trust of America. Congress has responded, belatedly, only after several documented massacres by Blackwater – including a drunken employee killing a bodyguard and the shooting of eight Iraqis, The New York Times reported.
But the spilled blood rests on the hands of America as much as it does on Blackwater and brings to life a problem President Eisenhower warned the country about in his 1961 farewell speech.
“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense without peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together,” Eisenhower told America.
At present, the citizenry is neither alert nor knowledgeable, and the unwatched Blackwater soldiers are trampling the security and liberty of Iraqi civilians.
The State Department, which contracts the group, could easily halt such bloodshed by refusing to renew contracts, rather than promoting payoff to appease the Iraqis. Payment for family members of the deceased ranges from $5,000 for one victim to $15,000 for the bodyguard, according to The New York Times, but does nothing to end Blackwater’s crimes.
Also, the Justice Department should prosecute perpetrators stringently, working with the FBI to ensure justice.
In a Congressional report regarding the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Expansion and Enforcement Act of 2007, Congress took a refreshingly honest look at the muddle in Iraq. The report acknowledged a failure to investigate reports of “serious incident reports” from contractors and minimal contractor persecutions.
As the ink on the report dried, the State Department was investigating the deaths of 11 Iraqi civilians, allegedly at the hands of Blackwater employees. But oversight without enforcement lacks the teeth needed to stop future war crimes from Blackwater – the Justice Department must enforce change to problems Congress finds.
In June, Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) introduced the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Expansion and Enforcement Act, aimed at closing loopholes in an existing act that allows some private contractors to slip through the cracks.
The Congressional committee’s recommendation would add further force to the bill by requiring the Justice Department’s Inspector General to submit contractor abuse and prosecution reports to Congress.
“This requirement is intended to address the Justice Department’s apparent failure to aggressively investigate and prosecute crimes committed by contractors over which it currently has jurisdiction,” the report reads.
Such a biting reproof from Congress comes late, but it offers hope of oversight and enforcement of Blackwater and other independent contractors who could continue to display vigilantism during the war.
The bill passed Oct. 4 in the House by a landslide 389 votes to 30, and after a second reading was ordered on the Senate’s legislative calendar Oct. 5. After Sen. Barack Obama, (D-Ill.) introduced the Senate bill Oct. 4, it was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. We hope the Senate moves quickly.
We like the House report, which says, “It is essential that the Federal Government have a mechanism for holding such contractors accountable in the event of criminal misconduct.” We cannot allow Blackwater to fall under the radar, especially because private contractors employ more Americans than government troops in Iraq, according to the Los Angeles Times. Congress, the State Department and the Justice Department should act quickly and rigorously to regulate and prosecute Blackwater before it unnecessarily spills more blood by America’s hands.