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Blackwater’s Impunity

After guards from Blackwater Worldwide protecting a State Department convoy killed at least 17 Iraqis in a hail of bullets last September, we hoped the Bush administration would rethink the folly of relying on mercenaries, who have no accountability to Iraqi or American law.
The ever-stubborn administration decided it couldn’t stay at war without its gunslingers. More than six months after the event, not a single charge has been brought against the guards. Last month, the State Department — which is supposed to be sensitive to local politics and perception — renewed Blackwater’s contract in Iraq for another year.

Patrick Kennedy, the under secretary of state for management, told James Risen of The Times, “If the contractors were removed, we would have to leave Iraq.”

That the United States is so dependent on 30,000 or so private guards to plug the holes in the understaffed military force underscores, once again, how badly this administration has mismanaged the occupation of Iraq — and why the United States must begin an orderly withdrawal as soon as possible.

The F.B.I. has still not concluded its investigation into the shooting. Some Blackwater guards might be indicted, but the company is not expected to face criminal charges. And while the Bush administration might have moved on, Iraqis — who see this as one more instance of American callousness and hypocrisy — have not.

Last October, the House passed a bill that would ensure that contractors working for the American government in conflict zones were liable for prosecution under American criminal law. It would also deploy special F.B.I. units to combat zones to investigate contractor crimes regularly. The bill, opposed by the White House, is stalled in the Senate. This month a Senate panel unanimously passed a bill that would bar private contractors from performing what are essentially government tasks in combat zones, which could bar the use of Blackwater guards.

These bills should become law. American credibility cannot afford anything less.




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