Blackwater guards must pay for civilian deaths
Tuscaloosa News (2007-11-19)
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Published Monday, November 19, 2007
The indecision of prosecutors over whether to bring charges against hired American security guards in the September shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians is baffling. It is an absolute no-brainer.
The people responsible for this bloodbath should be slammed with the full weight of the law.
The prosecutorial navel-gazing is even more bizarre given the fact that the FBI says at least 14 of shootings by the Blackwater security personnel were not justified. They violated the deadly force rules for security contractors in Iraq, the FBI investigation found.
But the Department of Justice, which became brazenly politicized during the tenure of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, has yet to decide what, if anything, it should do. It's almost as if someone higher up the ladder of government is trying to let the case die on the vine.
We'd prefer to believe that the department is waiting until Michael Mukasey, sworn in just last week as attorney general to replace the odious Gonzales, has his feet on the ground. The case may provide a good measure of Mukasey's independence and moral backbone.
The facts of the killings, which have created a furor among Iraq's leaders, are pretty cut-and-dried. The FBI investigators concluded that as many as five Blackwater guards, some armed with automatic weapons, opened fire on the civilians. One of the guards, identified by investigators as 'turret gunner No. 3,' fired a large number of rounds and is said to be responsible for several of the fatalities.
After the killings came to light, the Blackwater employees tried to claim they were fired on by Iraqi civilians. The FBI found no evidence of such an attack, however.
Its report says the guards fired in response to gunfire by other members of their unit in the mistaken belief that they were under attack. 'To say [the killing of civilians] was unwarranted is an understatement,' one official said.
The FBI theorizes the contractors felt threatened by a sedan that continued to move after other civilian vehicles had been stopped for a Blackwater convoy of four vehicles. A man and his mother, who relatives say were on a family errand, were killed in the car.
A third Iraqi civilian who was nearby also may have made the contractors feel threatened. But there was absolutely no rhyme or reason for the subsequent shootings of the 14 other Iraqis, some of whom were killed trying to flee from the scene, the FBI said.
Behavior of security contractors has long been questioned by people wary of the consequences of the administration's swaggering posture in Iraq. The U.S. House is considering legislation that states specifically that the Iraqi security contractors will be subject to American criminal law.
The Justice Department cannot afford to mishandle this case. It has the marks of another Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo in the making.