Blackwater Massacre Cover-Up
The four contractors murdered, burned, and dragged through the streets of Fallujah in 2004 were sent out by a Blackwater manager despite protests that they were understaffed and unprepared, according to a report in the Raleigh-Durham News and Observer.
While tragic and perhaps even outrageous, that’s not particularly newsworthy. There are incompetent managers in all walks of life. Blackwater was founded by former Special Operations leaders and their hiring profile leans heavily toward those with similar backgrounds. Presumably, this sort of thing could have happened within our own military then; indeed, it almost surely has.
Here’s the difference:
The memos surface amid heightened congressional scrutiny of Blackwater, a private security firm based in Moyock [North Carolina], and the private security industry, which grows ever more valuable to the Pentagon. Reports last week indicate that there are now more private contractors than troops operating in Iraq. [But the reports are misleading. -ed.] Blackwater has received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts.
The aftermath of the killings shows one difference between contractors and the military. Had an officer sent four lightly armed soldiers into Fallujah, he would likely have faced public scrutiny in the military justice system. In this case, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has been trying to get documents such as these memos from Blackwater without success.
The families of the four men killed in the ambush — Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, Scott Helvenston and Michael Teague — sued Blackwater in Wake County Superior Court in an effort to find out what happened. Blackwater countersued the estates of the four men in federal court, successfully arguing for arbitration, in which the proceedings are closed to the public and the investigation of the incident can be much more limited.
As I’ve noted several times since this incident, contractors are in a legal limbo, not subject to the UCMJ but not quite accountable under civilian law, either. Practically, one can’t expect men to sign on to work in a war zone and subject themselves to the vagaries of host nation law, especially in a murky political situation as exists in Iraq. At the same time, however, they ought to be subject to American law. The terms of their contract, though, make that difficult. That is, to say the least, problematic.