Foreign Policy Blogs

Blackwater Remains Untouched

The New York Times reported on January 1 that the U.S. has dismissed the criminal charges against Blackwater for opening fire on Iraqi civilians in 2007.  Many Iraqi citizens were angered by the news, with one of the men injured during the gunfight saying that the U.S. is letting criminals go free.  The Federal judge trying the case dismissed the manslaughter and weapons charges, saying that the statements given by the guards to State department officials were under the premise of immunity.

As I’ve previously reported on this incident, the deaths of 17 Iraqi citizens conjured some anti-American sentiments, particularly relating to the immunity contracted guards received in Iraq.  Sa’ad al-Izzi, former Iraqi reporter who now writes the New York Times blog At War, posted his reaction upon hearing the news.  According to al-Izzi, who visited nearby hospitals after the attack, the Blackwater guards began shooting at anyone or anything that moved that day.  Additionally, they had air cover from a helicopter which also contributed to the gunfight.  I highly recommend his post on this — it offers a more personalized perspective of the events of the day.

This is just an unfortunate situation.  If the guards were given immunity, there’s little room for prosecuting them.  From the small pieces of the story covering the judge’s decision, he seems correct in dismissing the charges.  The real shame was the fact that the guards were not held accountable to any laws while operating in Iraq — Iraqi or American.  This was rectified when the Iraqi law was passed allowing contracted military guards to be tried locally for any crimes committed.

If we continue to fight with contracted military guards, or if other countries begin using these services in their wars, who holds them accountable?  If the country in which they’re fighting doesn’t have a working government, how could they be arrested or tried locally?  The international community, where it stands today, is just too inefficient to handle situations involving multiple nations, particularly nations at war with each other.  Ideally, each country should be held responsible for their military actions, including contractors; but is that a reality?  For example, in the case that India and Pakistan would engage in a conventional war where tensions are already high, could it be expected that each country would hold their military and contractors accountable for any crimes committed?  If contracted militaries continue to be utilized in the future, this is an aspect of international law that will need to be addressed, and soon.

It seems that for this specific situation, the U.S. government should be held accountable for the actions of their contracted employees, not to mention Blackwater as a corporation.  It’s extremely unfortunate that these guards were given immunity from U.S. law when placed in Iraq.



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;