At first, it sounds like a step in the right direction. And maybe it is. A very small step. According to the New York Times:
The American military has charged a contractor with assault in a case that may emerge as a major test of the military’s legal jurisdiction over civilians who accompany the armed forces into the field, military officials and legal experts said Friday.
And it’s about time. Because, as Jeremy Scahill wrote in Salon, almost a year ago:
Before Paul Bremer, Bush’s viceroy in Baghdad, left Iraq in 2004, he issued an edict, known as Order 17. It immunized contractors from prosecution in Iraq, which, today, is like the wild West, full of roaming Iraqi death squads and scores of unaccountable, heavily armed mercenaries, ex-military men from around the world, working for the occupation. For the community of contractors in Iraq, immunity and impunity are welded together.
And as the Washington Post reported, in November:
That ruling remains in effect.
And as reported in Time Magazine, in February, the State Department and the Pentagon are fighting over whether or not to demand that the supposedly sovereign government of Iraq extend the immunity:
Contractor immunity may be unique to Iraq and difficult to demand of Baghdad, but the Pentagon still wants it. In interagency discussions arranged in preparation for the start of negotiations, the Department of Defense has said it want to ask the Iraqis to maintain status quo. The State Department, however, has argued strongly against that position. “We are just still internally discussing this, and still haven’t really come out with a position,” says the senior Administration official. A State Department official says discussions are underway. Says Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell, “Don’t confuse interagency discussions with disagreement. We’re all trying to achieve a single U.S. position on the way ahead in Iraq.”
Because nothing is greater proof of a nation’s sovereignty than allowing foreign corporations from an occupying foreign power to be immune from local laws. Laws against things like mass murder. So, it’s a good thing that a contractor is finally being charged for an act of violence. As today’s Times report continues:
The contractor in the coming case, Alaa Mohammad Ali, was working as an interpreter at a combat outpost near Hit, a town in Anbar Province. He was accused of stabbing a fellow contractor with a knife in the chest and sternum on Feb. 23. He was detained at Camp Victory, an American military base near the Baghdad airport, later that month. According to military officials, Mr. Ali has Canadian and Iraqi citizenship. A pretrial hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, at which an Army officer will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support the charge.
Isn’t that perfect? An Arab-Canadian contractor is being charged for allegedly having stabbed a fellow contractor. But when Blackwater gassed civlilians? Or when Blackwater massacred 17 civilians? Nothing. Because of that immunity. Because Blackwater’s special. How special? The Associated Press is today reporting:
Amid investigations into fatal shootings of civilians and allegations of tax violations, Blackwater USA’s multimillion-dollar contract to protect diplomats in Baghdad has been renewed, the State Department said Friday.
A final decision about whether the private security company will keep the job is pending, the department said. Moyock, N.C.-based Blackwater is one of the largest private military contractors, receiving nearly $1.25 billion in federal business since 2000, according to a House committee estimate.
The company is also the target of an unrelated investigation into whether its contractors smuggled weapons into Iraq. Lawmakers have called for an investigation into whether Blackwater violated tax laws by classifying employees as independent contractors. The company says the claim is groundless.
But there will now be some level of accountability, right?
The Pentagon and the State Department agreed in December to give the military in Iraq more control over Blackwater Worldwide and other private security contractors.
The agreement spells out rules, standards and guidelines for the use of private security contractors and says contractors will be accountable for criminal acts under U.S. law. That partly clarifies what happens if a contractor breaks the law, but it leaves the details to be worked out with Congress.
More control. Rules, standards and guidelines. Partly clarifies. Details to be worked out. In other words, enough loopholes to drive a war crime through. Just so Arab-Canadian contractors don’t stab other contractors. That would be bad. That should be punished.