Relatives of the 17 Iraqis killed by American mercenary forces employed by the Blackwater corporation (now called Xe after months of bad press) were stunned to learn that the case against the mercenaries was thrown out.
Sahib Nassir’s 26-year-old son, Mehdi, a taxi driver, was shot in the back and died during the incident. He said he was stunned to hear that the charges had been dismissed because he had been preparing to testify at a the trial. “How could they release them?” he asked. “There is evidence. There are witnesses.”
One such witness was an Iraqi police officer on duty that day:
Ali Khalaf, a traffic police officer who was on duty in Nisour Square when the Blackwater guards opened fire and aided some of the victims afterward, was furious.
“There has been a cover-up since the very start,” he said. “What can we say? They killed people. They probably gave a bribe to get released. This is their own American court system.”
That’s highly unlikely. While Khalaf’s anger is understandable and probably righteous, America is not Iraq.
If anything, the injustice in this case is first and foremost about maintaining a standard of high standard of law in this country, something that should be the goal in every nation, particularly those in which the expectation of bribery being behind any unexpected outcome is natural and justified.
A secondary issue with the case is its misuse of civilian courts to punish military offenses. Like it or not – and I do not like it one bit – Blackwater was effectively a branch of the U.S. military in its operations in Iraq. Its personnel should, therefore, be held to military-level standards of conduct and violations of these standards dealt with by the military justice system.
From a civilian perspective it seems likely that a travesty of justice will be the result in this case. Personally I have a belief that the Blackwater mercenaries acted inappropriately and that they killed 17 Iraqis for no good reason. But it’s certainly possible that they were fired upon. Such attacks still happen in Iraq even now.
Yet the truth is my perspective, like that of almost all Americans, is limited by the very nature of the safety that our comfortable, secure lives provide. We have no ability to understand what it means to be in mortal danger simply driving along a city street or highway and no knowledge of what it’s like to pass vehicles burning in the street as a result of terrorist actions. Passing judgment on men who have to live with and work under such a threat for months on end can never be the business of a civilian court.
What is within the purview of the American people is the use of mercenary companies in the stead of the United States military. The Blackwater incident in question is not the only such instance of misbehavior by the company and others like it, merely the most egregious.
Should American force be projected abroad in the form of hired guns? I think not. Better by far to recruit the needed personnel into the legitimate military where standards of training and behavior can be dispensed and enforced using a well-defined system. It may cost more to do so, but the price of war must be paid if one is to be executed.