Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Iraq - Bad News For Blackwater

By Layla Auer
As controversial mercenary firm Blackwater gets away with the massacre of 17 Iraqi civilians, Layla Auer from War on Want explains why private armies need to be regulated now more than ever.
The notorious US mercenary firm Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, has hit the headlines recently as contractors working for the firm have evaded responsibility for killing 17 Iraqi civilians three years ago at Nisoor Square. Two former Blackwater operatives also were arrested at the beginning of the year on murder charges. In both instances Blackwater was operating under contract with US government. With Blackwater currently a favourite to win a $1 billion Pentagon contract to train Afghan police, the company's profiteering from conflict zones at the expense of human rights looks set to continue.
Nisoor Square shootings
In 2007, mercenaries working for Blackwater opened fire at a busy crossroads in Baghdad, Iraq, killing 17 and seriously injuring many more. Some of the bodies of the Iraqi victims were
 so disfigured that they had to be identified by dental records.
During the occupation of Iraq, mercenaries working for coalition forces were given immunity from prosecution both in the United States and Iraq. But recently the United States government initiated a legal process that would empower the Justice Department to prosecute the Blackwater contractors for these killings.
In December 2009, the case against Blackwater was thrown out due to a procedural technicality over the way the defendants were questioned. The case was dismissed despite the judge's conclusion that the killings were unprovoked and that "the spectre of improper and potentially criminal conduct was apparent to government officials almost immediately after the incident."
At the end of January 2010 controversy over Blackwater's killing spree took another sordid twist. The Justice Department is currently investigating allegations that following the Nisoor Square massacre Blackwater attempted to bribe Iraqi officials. The bribe of about $1 million was meant to be in exchange for a guarantee that the company would be allowed to continue operating in the country.
Within the last few days, 250 former and current Blackwater staff  have been ordered to leave Iraq within a week. The Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani expressed his dismay over the dismissal of the Blackwater charges, stating "We want to turn the page. It was a painful experience, and we would like to go forward."
Blackwater running riot in Afghanistan
Following the increase in mercenaries engaged in combat Iraq, private armies have been awarded an alarming amount of UK government contracts in Afghanistan. Recent figures revealed that private armies have secured contracts for Afghanistan worth more than £42 million from the British government for a two-year period from of the start of 2008 to the end of December 2009, more than twice the figure for Iraq in the same period. As the US and UK plan to send more troops to Afghanistan, there are now serious concerns about the use of private armies and the potential for further human rights abuses.
There is evidence to suggest similar human rights abuses at hands of mercenaries are already occurring. In May 2009 in Kabul two contractors working for a subsidiary of Blackwater allegedly opened fire on a civilian's car, killing two people and seriously injuring a third. The contractors had been training the Afghan National Army in the use and maintenance of weapons and weapons systems. The accused men were hired by Blackwater despite their suspect pasts with the US military, including instances of violence, drug use and insubordination. They face the death penalty if found guilty.
Stop private armies now
In the United States strident steps have been taken to hold mercenaries to account. In January 2010 congresswoman Jan Schakowsky proposed legislation
 to ban the US government from offering contracts to private armies. Yet the UK government — which has spent over £148 million of taxpayers' money on private army contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan — has rejected formal regulation in favour of a voluntary code of conduct where mercenary companies will be left to police themselves. This voluntary code is currently being drawn up by the government without any parliamentary oversight. War on Want is campaigning against voluntary codes of conduct. Only robust government legislation can regulate private armies. Innocent civilians living in conflict zones already face grave danger on a daily basis. Men roaming the streets with guns who are not held accountable aggravate this vulnerability. As the Blackwater shootings have proven, self-regulation of this deadly industry is not an option.

1 comment:

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