Swiss Investigate Ex-Blackwater Employee
Associated Press (2007-11-06) Anna Imfeld
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BERN, Switzerland (AP) — Authorities are investigating whether a Swiss national who worked for the U.S. security firm Blackwater in Iraq broke a law barring citizens from working for foreign military services, an official said Tuesday.
The United Nations has called the use of private security guards by companies like Blackwater Worldwide a growing new form of mercenary activity, which is discouraged in international rules on the conduct of war. Blackwater Worldwide, which recently changed its name from Blackwater USA, was involved in the killing of 17 civilians in Baghdad two months ago.
The United States rejects the notion that government-contracted security guards of any nationality are mercenaries.
The Swiss military justice system started its probe in May, said spokesman Frank Zellweger. If the judiciary rules that employment for Blackwater constitutes military service, the man faces prison term of up to three years.
Zellweger declined to identify the man under investigation, citing the country's strict privacy rules. Swiss national television network SF1 referred to the man only as "Mike."
Zellweger confirmed details of the investigation, first reported by the Zurich daily Tages Anzeiger. That report said judicial authorities were alerted to the case by a television report in May about how the man had worked in Iraq and had since applied to join the French Foreign Legion.
Zellweger said the man has since confirmed to authorities what SF1 reported.
Switzerland has yet to rule on whether employment for a private security firm in a war zone constitutes mercenary activity.
Tages Anzeiger reported that military justice officials have asked Swiss intelligence to aid the investigation by determining how Blackwater is contracted and what weapons the firm uses in Iraq. The paper said the man is not accused of war crimes.
Switzerland, which was famous in the Middle Ages for sending mercenaries throughout Europe, strictly prohibits service in a foreign military. It has previously focused on Swiss with dual citizenships who serve in armies of countries where they also hold passports as well as citizens serving in the Foreign Legion.
The U.N. report that criticized Blackwater and other security firms in Iraq will be presented to the General Assembly in New York later this week, said Jose Diaz, a spokesman for U.N. human rights chief Louise Arbour.