The grand jury investigating the September massacre of civilians by Blackwater guards is also investigating several other “private security firms.” According to the Washington Post:
FBI investigators have reportedly concluded that the killing of 14 of the 17 civilians was unjustified under State Department rules on the use of force. But the case is muddied by the question of what laws, if any, apply to security contractors operating under military, State Department and civilian contracts.
Because massacring civilians is one of those areas of legal mud. The question is whether laws applying to private contractors working for the Defense Department also apply to contractors working for the State Department. And although the military has brought charges against numerous official service personnel, they have brought none against private security contractors. Because whether or not mass murder is legal depends on who is doing the mass murdering, and for whom they work. The current grand jury investigation indicates that might soon change.
The Iraqi government has said it knows of at least 20 shooting incidents involving security contractors, with more than half a dozen linked to Blackwater.
The problem, of course, is that legal mud.
For instance, contractors were immunized from Iraqi laws under a June 2004 order signed by the U.S. occupation authority. That ruling remains in effect.
Because the U.S. occupation authority believed what everyone working for the Bush Administration believes: some people are above the law. And that belief apparently remains. That ruling remains in effect?!
In addition, investigations are complicated by questions about evidence, jurisdiction and the availability of witnesses.
And we can all stop and ponder the meaning of the words “availability of witnesses.” Any guesses?
“If they’re going to try to indict, they’ve got a lot to overcome,” said Patricia A. Smith, an Alexandria lawyer who represents two former employees of Triple Canopy, a private security firm based in Herndon, in a civil lawsuit. The former employees say they were wrongfully terminated after reporting that their Triple Canopy team leader fired shots into the windshield of a taxi for amusement last year on Baghdad’s airport road.
The two former guards lost their case, but are appealing. The company was ruled to have acted “inappropriately,” and three guards were fired, including, of course, the two who reported the shooting. But no investigation was conducted. By any legal authority. Neither U.S. nor Iraqi. Smith says that as far as she knows, no subpoenas have even been issued. Undoubtedly, more legal mud.