Wednesday, October 03, 2007

John Edwards To Speak Out Against Blackwater

Now, I'm no big fan of the Democrats in the US. As far as I am concerned, they are virtually indistinguishable from the GOP. Having said that, I have to admit I was quite impressed by John Edwards during the last Presidential campaign. After Howard Dean lost a lot of momentum, Edwards seemed like the next best bet (if you can deal with his car salesman look). I have to say that this campaign looks no different. Again, I have to reinforce the point, I would not vote for either party in the US, but Edwards comes closer than any other Democrat ever could (sadly, my opinion counts for nothing as I do not have a say in the outcome of the election).

With this in mind, it was good to see that Edwards was planning to speak out against the prevalence of unaccountable security firms being employed to do the military's dirty work. From the Associated Press:

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) — Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards wants to limit the role of security contractors working in Iraq and elsewhere, joining the growing criticism of a shootout that left 11 Iraqi civilians dead.

Edwards' remarks, planned for Wednesday, targeted Blackwater USA, a private security firm under investigation for its role in the Sept. 16 incident in Baghdad. The confrontation has become fodder for congressional hearings and outcry from war critics.

"We must put the democracy back in our military and prevent a disaster like the continuation of the Iraq War from ever occurring again," Edwards says in remarks provided to The Associated Press. "As commander in chief, I will transfer most security missions currently performed by contractors back to military command, where they belong."

Edwards' speech also takes a swipe at chief Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has refused to make a pledges to end all military operations in Iraq, citing the need to stay on offense against terrorism.

"Come on. If you're not ending combat operations, you're not ending the war," Edwards says.

Edwards wants to end all combat missions in Iraq and have a full exit of troops within 10 months, except those needed to protect diplomatic efforts including the U.S. Embassy.

Edwards said there is no federal oversight for contractors working in Iraq and called for a centralized budget for contractors who work across U.S. agencies, including the State Department and Pentagon.

"There should never be any mystery about when a contractor can use force and the consequences for improper action," he says. "We also must make sure not only that we have laws, but that we use them ... to ensure alleged crimes by contractors are always investigated and prosecuted."

About 50,000 private contractors currently work in Iraq and in most cases operate outside the military chain of command and without legal oversight.

Edwards blames the Bush administration's outsourcing of security tasks to "political cronies." Poor management led directly to the Blackwater incident, along with a separate shooting of an Iraqi security agent by an allegedly drunk Blackwater employee after a 2006 Christmas party, he maintained.

In testimony before a House committee Tuesday, Blackwater chairman Erik Prince rejected suggestions that his employees were cowboys immune from prosecutions. "I believe we acted appropriately at all times," he said.

The underlined incident is a particularly worrying example of the dangerous nature of these private security groups. From The Guardian:

But a memo by congressional staff said Blackwater has been involved in an average of 1.4 shootings a week. The memo detailed various incidents, including one on December 24 when a 26-year-old Blackwater staffer killed a 32-year-old guard to Adil Abd al-Mahdi, the Iraqi vice-president, provoking an angry response from the Iraqi government.

The memo said that documents it had obtained say "the Blackwater contractor, who worked as an armourer, had attended a party on the evening of December 24, had consumed several alcoholic beverages and was described as drunk by witnesses who encountered him that evening".

Armed with a Glock 9mm pistol he passed through a gate near the compound of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, when he was confronted by the Iraqi security guard. He opened fire with his pistol, hitting one of the guards, Raheem Khalif, three times. Khalif, 32, later died at a US military hospital.

The Blackwater employee fled to a guard post, where he said he had been in a gunfight with Iraqis who were chasing him and shooting at him. But the guards had not heard any shots.

And the following sums up exactly why these groups should have no business running security in war zones:

Mr Prince said the employee had been sacked and fined. Asked why he had been whisked out of Iraq within two days without being charged, Mr Prince said the company had no power to detain anyone. "We can't flog him, we can't incarcerate him," he said.

Rogue elements do not face the same justice that members of the military have to face up to (theoretically, the army always seem to wiggle out of their obligations too). These men aren't even obliged to adhere to the Geneva conventions (much like their leaders it would appear). Companies like Blackwater should be dissolved with immediate effect and its directors imprisoned. They are just as guilty of war crimes as their superiors. Justice must be served.