31 October 2007

Talking sense about Blackwater in Iraq

newsobserver.com | When lawlessness reigns
When lawlessness reigns
STANFORD, CALIF. - Six weeks after the shootings in Baghdad that left 17 people dead, more than a dozen public and private investigations of Blackwater USA have reached a seemingly irrefutable conclusion: Blackwater's forces in Iraq are behaving as brutal outlaws.
A congressional investigation found that Blackwater opened fire far more often than other mercenaries. American soldiers counted shell casings at the scene of the shootings and found none that might have come from attackers. The Iraqi government interviewed witnesses and victims who said Blackwater fired first.
Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., denies the allegations. But all of it leaves an indelible image of lawless renegades.
I am not here to defend Blackwater -- or Unity Resources Group, whose guards shot and killed two women driving home from work recently. But none of the investigations, hearings, lawsuits and reports generated in the past weeks has put the contractors' actions in context. The contractors are working in an utterly lawless, anarchic society.
I don't think most Americans appreciate how broken Iraq really is. I've worked in Iraq several times, between 2003 and 2006. During the most recent trip, accompanying Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, our motorcade from the Baghdad airport was held up by an explosive device -- discovered in the road just in time.
Visit Baghdad, and one of the first things you notice is the total lack of even rudimentary traffic rules. Want to make a left turn, but a traffic island makes that impossible? Make a U-turn down the road, and then drive into oncoming traffic for several blocks until you reach your street. No one will raise an eyebrow.
Imagine you are concerned about security in your neighborhood. So you install roadblocks of sand bags, cement bricks and barbed wire, manned by armed mercenaries, at both ends of your block. An unintended result: None of your neighbors can drive home. That happens across Baghdad, and the neighbors have no recourse, no one to complain to.
Maybe those problems seem petty when compared to the larger picture of violence and death. But they do give a flavor of a society out of control.
Blackwater is accused of killing 17 people in a drive-by shooting. Well, drive-by shootings are a daily occurrence. Pick just one day, Oct. 10. Gunmen driving a black Opal Vectra fired upon General Abdulameer Mahmoud, a security official. He and two guards were hospitalized. Gunmen fired on a bus full of Railways Commission employees driving home from work, killing one and injuring five. That same day, gunmen fired on a Kia minibus full of civilians, killing one and injuring six others.
Across Iraq that day, according to a McClatchy Newspapers roundup, eight bodies were found, seven of them unidentified. Four roadside explosive devices detonated, killing two people and injuring six others. Kidnappers seized one government official. A car bomb killed two people and inured 17. A mortar attack on a school for girls injured 11 students and two teachers. Gunmen shot and killed three policemen. And if that day is like most every other, no one will ever be taken to account.
During my first reporting trip to Iraq, in late 2003, my colleagues and I were awakened early one morning by an explosion. Several of us drove to the scene of the bombing. A crowd had already gathered. We got out, and as we walked toward the scene, several people from the crowd looked back at us. One shouted something. The crowd turned and rushed at us, screaming, "kill them!" They began hurling rocks. We scrambled back into our car and took off, but not before a rock had hit our photographer on the head, and others had smashed several windows.
The incident helped force us to reappraise our stance in Iraq. After that, we began to consider every new situation potentially hostile.
A few months later, Iraqis attacked four Blackwater employees driving into Fallujah. A mob shot and burned them, then hung two charred corpses from the struts of a bridge. That helped force a reappraisal of the American stance in Iraq. After that, is it any wonder that Blackwater began to consider every new situation potentially hostile?
Earlier this month, the house passed a bill authored by U.S. Rep. David Price, the North Carolina Democrat, that would hold contractors accountable under American criminal law. A similar bill is before the Senate.
I support that bill. As Americans, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. But before we pillory Blackwater and the other security companies, consider where they work.
(Joel Brinkley is a professor of journalism at Stanford University and a former foreign policy correspondent for the New York Times.)

27 October 2007

UN expert to probe killings by US troops, killings by Iraqis area apparently A-OK...

UN expert to probe killings by US troops - Yahoo! News
UNITED NATIONS - A United Nations expert said Friday he plans to study whether members of the U.S. military or government contractors such as Blackwater USA violate international law when they kill civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Philip Alston, a professor at New York University law school who has been an adviser to the UN's commission on human rights since 2004, said the U.S. had invited him to look into the issue. He said he would begin work in the spring and did not yet have an itinerary or list of people to interview.
'I am very interested in questions relating to military justice ... in other words, the response to alleged extrajudicial executions by members of the U.S. military, particularly in places like Iraq and Afghanistan,' he told a news conference after briefing the General Assembly's human rights committee.

No word yet on whether or not Phil is interested in investigating the Sunni/Al Qaeda terrorists blowing up hundreds of civilians with car bombs.

15 October 2007

Two interestingly juxtaposed articles

Consecutive headlines from today's news

Lawsuit being filed because... why? Innocent Iraqis killed? Or because the contractor is capable of being sued through their nation's legal system?

Blackwater says lawsuit "politically motivated" - Yahoo! News
U.S. military reports from the scene of the shooting indicated Blackwater guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force. The Iraqi government has accused Blackwater of deliberately killing the 17, and wants Blackwater to pay $8 million in compensation to each victim's family.
The lawsuit, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, charged that Blackwater violated U.S. law by committing 'extrajudicial killings and war crimes.'
The legal advocacy group charges that Blackwater 'created and fostered a culture of lawlessness amongst its employees,' and seeks unspecified compensatory damages for death, physical, mental and economic injuries, and punitive damages.
Prince said Blackwater guards responded lawfully after a State Department convoy they were protecting came under small arms fire and there was no 'deliberate murder.'

In the meantime, no lawsuit was filed in the wake of the latest indiscriminate killing by other Iraqis.

Suicide bomber kills six in Iraq checkpoint attack - Yahoo! News
A suicide car bomber killed six members of an anti-al Qaeda tribal police unit when he struck their checkpoint near Baghdad on Monday, police said.
Police said several others were wounded in the attack near Balad, 80 km (50 miles) north of the Iraqi capital. It was the latest attack on members of the Salahuddin Awakenings Council, an alliance of tribes in the Sunni Arab province of Salahuddin opposed to al Qaeda's religious extremism and its indiscriminate killing of civilians.

11 October 2007

Ben Stein gets upset

OK, everyone knows I can't stand Fox News. But in this clip, the Fox guys are (fortunately) mostly quiet and let Ben Stein do his thing.