Thursday, October 04, 2007

When the Nearsighted Play Chess

Some interesting Blackwater-related legislative moves:

The House passed a bill Thursday that would make all private contractors working in Iraq and other combat zones subject to prosecution by U.S. courts. It was the first major legislation of its kind to pass since a deadly shootout last month involving Blackwater employees.

Democrats called the 389-30 vote an indictment in connection with a shooting incident there that left 11 Iraqis dead. Senate Democratic leaders said they planned to follow suit with similar legislation and send a bill to President Bush as soon as possible.

“There is simply no excuse for the de facto legal immunity for tens of thousands of individuals working in countries” on behalf of the United States, said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas.

Bush, as expected, has threatened to veto the bill. That should not be a reason for the Democrats to abandon the effort though. Make him veto it. It would be an unpopular move, and for good reason. There is little justification for holding our soldiers to a certain legal standard, while leaving mercenaries under the protective shroud of absolute sweeping immunity. Surely the more "efficient" mercenary forces can operate effectively within the same parameters as the US Army and the Marines. Unless someone wants to argue the other side?

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, the story wends down a similar path:

The official Iraqi investigation into the Blackwater shooting last month recommends that the security guards face trial in Iraqi courts and that the company compensate the victims, an Iraqi government minister told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The three-member panel, led by Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi, determined that Blackwater guards sprayed western Baghdad's Nisoor Square with gunfire Sept. 16 without provocation, Minister of State for National Security Sherwan al-Waili told AP.

The panel also found that 13 Iraqis were killed, not 11 as earlier disclosed, according to al-Waili told AP.

A parallel but unofficial investigation by seven members of the Interior Ministry found that 17 Iraqis were killed and 24 wounded, a member of the Interior Ministry panel said on condition that he not be identified because the findings were not public. He said its recommendations were nearly identical to those issued by the al-Obeidi investigative team.

After such findings, Bush's eventual veto won't leave Maliki very much room in terms of satisfying the mounting domestic calls to take action. Under normal conditions, such a crisis faced by a putative ally in an already precarious position might prompt a US president to take note of the delicacy of the situation and acquiesce by signing the legislation (of course, a sensible US president would probably recognize the wisdom of the proposed legislation in the first place). Under the present circumstances, though, I fully expect Bush to leave Maliki out to dry.

Which will play right into the hands of Moqtada al-Sadr and those factions that are most intent on forcing the expulsion of American troops from Iraq. A propaganda gift of considerable potency. It really is amazing that this hapless foreign policy team cannot manage to think two moves in advance on nearly any issue - pathologically unable to take stock of how certain actions, even if personally gratifying or ideologically appealing, can invoke the opposite of the intended outcome.

[UPDATE: Via Kevin Drum, US Military forces on the scene corroborate the Iraqi account contra Blackwater's version of events:

U.S. military reports from the scene of the Sept. 16 shooting incident involving the security firm Blackwater USA indicate that its guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force against Iraqi civilians, according to a senior U.S. military official.

....The U.S. military reports appear to corroborate the Iraqi government's contention that Blackwater was at fault in the shooting incident in Nisoor Square, in which hospital records say at least 14 people were killed and 18 were wounded.

"It was obviously excessive, it was obviously wrong," said the U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the incident remains the subject of several investigations. "The civilians that were fired upon, they didn't have any weapons to fire back at them. And none of the IP or any of the local security forces fired back at them," he added, using a military abbreviation for the Iraqi police. The Blackwater guards appeared to have fired grenade launchers in addition to machine guns, the official said.

Grenade launchers? Nice touch. Wonder how that fits into counterinsurgency best practices? I'm no expert, but I'll hazard a guess: Not. Good.]

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