Foreign Policy Blogs

Blackwater Guards Indicted for 2007 Shooting

In an interesting development this weekend, five Blackwater guards involved in the September 2007 shooting that killed 17 Iraqi civilians are facing charges.  BBC News reports that the men are expected to surrender in Utah, the home state for one guard.  Iraqi officials are happy with the news, and one Iraqi man who lost his wife and son in the shooting said he had not even received so much as an apology.  He later rejected a compensation offer of $10,000. 

The guards claim that they opened fire after being ambushed by insurgents, arguing that it was self-defense.  However, an FBI investigation concluded that 14 of the deaths that day were unjustified.  Now, the International Herald Tribune reports that Iraqi investigators, with the assistance of witnesses, cannot put together a story of ambush, and many believe that the Blackwater guards provoked the fight.  One Iraqi man involved in the ordeal described watching a woman and young man burn to death in the car in front of him after it exploded due to gunfire.  He tried to drive to his house, but the Blackwater guards followed him, shooting holes in the roof of his car, one of which hit him in the arm.  Weeks after the attack, he stated that FBI agents came to his house to question him about the events, and even inspected and purchased his car.  Another witness stated (BBC), “They just kept shooting.  They shot in all directions.  At the trees.  At the police hut.  They kept shooting at the first car until it burst into flames.”  Yet another Iraqi man who lost his father in the ordeal believes that the guards should be executed. 

CNN reported this morning that the guards will be charged with manslaughter and weapons charges, and the BBC article states that the US Justice Dept has been considering these charges for weeks.  Interestingly, this comes after the Status of Forces Agreement, and with that, the decision that Iraqi officials will be able to prosecute contractors for criminal activity. 

I’m left wondering if the charges being brought against the guards are the US government's way of addressing the attack, but saving the guards from being prosecuted in Iraq, where a jury would most likely ask for the greatest penalty.  A very important question of ethics comes into this discussion about military contractors: how far are we willing to go to protect them?  These companies and guards are being paid bigger bucks than the 19-year-olds that give up their lives for their country, and yet we go to extreme lengths to protect them from prosecution, and possibly even cover up their actions.  With the new laws recently passed and a better functioning Iraq, this situation will most likely not occur in the future.  But what happens the next time we come into (or even create) another stateless situation where law doesn't yet exist? 

My very first FPA Blog was on the topic of Blackwater, so it seems that I have come full-circle for 2008.  In that article, I argued for stricter laws controlling military contractors, perhaps enacted by the UN.  I believe that one of the most important issues with a contracted military is a lack of honor.  These people are paid to act in defense of the US, whereas our troops have it in their heart.  They are putting their lives on the line for minimal pay, but out of honor for their country.  They (or at least most of them) know that their actions represent those of the US, a place they love protecting.  Contractors, it seems, do not have that same sense of responsibility. 

I believe that issues surrounding military contractors will continue to grow in the future, as they have become a very inexpensive yet efficient way to fight wars.  A very scary thought: if the US is having problems controlling their paid guards, do we even want to imagine a second- or third-world country hiring the same type of contractors? 

 

Author

Jennifer Bushaw

Jennifer Bushaw holds an MA from the University of Chicago in Middle Eastern Studies with an emphasis on policy. She focused her research, including her Thesis, on modern Iraq and the Iraq war. She also has a Bachelor's in History from the University of Michigan. Jennifer is currently working as an Investigative Research Associate for a security advisory and management firm in Chicago, Illinois.

Areas of Focus:
Iraq-US Policy; Security; Coalition Operations;

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