Friday, January 1, 2010

Federal Judge Dismisses Charges against Blackwater Mercenaries

Most of us in the US have been exposed to enough TV series about lawyers and the court system (e.g., "Law and Order") to understand that in many instances when the technicalities of the law are enforced, the broader interests of justice are nonetheless not served.

As both the NYT and the WaPo have reported, Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of Federal District Court in Washington has ruled to dismiss the charges against five former Blackwater "security contractors" (i.e., mercenaries, guns for hire).  If you don't recall, these are the same guys who in 2007 shot up a public square in Baghdad and left 17 Iraqis dead about 20 wounded.  As the NYT also notes,
The guards could not be prosecuted under Iraqi law because of an immunity agreement that had been signed by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the governing authority installed by the United States after the invasion of Iraq. [That's very cute, how the NYT puts that.  Let's be blunt: US viceroy Jerry Bremer gave Eric Prince's goons the means to cover their asses against any charges of overstepping the bounds.  Read Jeremy Scahill's book on this.  They tended to be tough-talking thugs with itchy trigger-fingers.] But American prosecutors knew from the beginning that they were facing a difficult task in bringing the case. Complications included the applicability of federal statutes to the guards because they were working overseas at the time for the State Department, and the significant problem stemming from statements the guards gave shortly after the shootings.
In other words, the company these guys worked for got a free pass from the US government, right from the start, to murder Iraqi civilians.  Later, the Justice Department (much to its credit) reconsidered and decided it appropriate to go after some of them. But now,the Blackwater guys are off the hook, and as the WaPo report notes:
Urbina's decision, coming on New Year's Eve, surprised Justice Department officials, attorneys for the guards and relatives of the victims in Baghdad. Many were preparing for a trial, which had been scheduled to start Feb. 1. Jurors were being summoned to appear Jan. 11 as part of a screening process.

The Justice Department can appeal the ruling. But legal experts said it will have a difficult time because Urbina wrote such a detailed opinion and held such long hearings. Prosecutors can also seek a fresh indictment but would be precluded from using any evidence that Urbina ruled was tainted. That would be another tough task because Urbina eviscerated much of the government's case. He also found that many of its key witnesses were badly tainted by the guards' statements, which they had read or heard about in the media.

Meanwhile, the mercenaries themselves are celebrating an unexpected New Year's present.   On Thursday, the president and chief executive officer of Xe [Blackwater's new name, which they undoubtedly adopted in the wake of the Baghdad incident because the Blackwater name had been so tarnished by it], Joseph Yorio, praised Judge Urbina’s ruling in a statement:
“The company supports the judge’s decision to dismiss the charges. . . . From the beginning, Xe has stood behind the hundreds of brave men who put themselves in harm’s way to protect American diplomats working in Baghdad and other combat zones in Iraq. Like the people they were protecting, our Xe professionals were working for a free, safe and democratic Iraq for the Iraqi people.”
The Iraqi government would like to take some kind of action.  Fat chance it will do any good.  Many Iraqis are upset, even if the past 7 years ought to have shown them by now that Iraqis victimized by American wrongdoing can expect no justice from the US.

But we all ought to be ready for that justice to be exacted, by "non-state actors" who have been long motivated by the US's high-handedness when it comes to the lives of Muslims.

An update: Iraqis are indeed angry, and perplexed (to put it mildly) about how the vaunted US justice system could allow this to happen.  General Odierno, on the other hand, holds it up as an example of America's adherence to the "rule of law."

There's "rule of law," General.  And then there's need for justice.  This won't cut it on that score.

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