Private Contractors to be Subject to Prosecution

Blackwater mercenaries may soon no longer have a license to kill,

The House passed a bill Thursday that would make all private contractors working in Iraq and other combat zones subject to prosecution by U.S. courts. It was the first major legislation of its kind to pass since a deadly shootout last month involving Blackwater employees. Democrats called the 389-30 vote an indictment of the shooting incident there that left 11 Iraqis dead. Senate Democratic leaders said they planned to follow suit with similar legislation and send a bill to President Bush as soon as possible.

“There is simply no excuse for the de facto legal immunity for tens of thousands of individuals working in countries” on behalf of the United States, said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas.

I really wish they hadn’t quoted Sheila Jackson-Lee. I may have to have to rethink my position on this …..

FILED UNDER: Congress, Military Affairs, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    Sounds like a veto proof majority in the house. Since the democrats would like nothing better than for the rationale response to this (the private security companies leaving), I am wondering how Bush could word a blanket pardon?

  2. Tlaloc says:

    Forget the US courts: the Hague is the right venue for war crimes.

  3. davod says:

    What war crimes?

  4. Scott_T says:

    The ‘war crime’ is working for such a despicable company such as Blackwater and the other Private Security companies treating Iraq as the American Wild West with no laws or accountability.

    Of course they, the security companies, aren’t recognized by the UN as anything but bands of roaming hooligans. The same you’d see an a UK soccer match.

    Duh.

  5. Tlaloc says:

    What war crimes?

    Uh, last time I checked indiscriminantly killing civilians constitued a war crime by soldiers (Blackwater may be private as opposed to public soldiers but they remain soldiers).

  6. Bob Sile says:

    Blackwater employees would not classify under international law as soldiers. Interestingly, they would be granted same rights as Gitmo detainees since they may claim they are part of a militia. Also, since their operations are defensive in nature it’ll be interesting to listen to left claim they are war criminals since they are defending a protected class (diplomats & unarmed civilians). Same left claims insurgents are afforded protected status while conducting offensive operations on same protected class. I guess one’s rights really do depend on who dispenses justice.

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    I guess one’s rights really do depend on who dispenses justice.

    Shhh, Bob, you’ll just upset Tlaloc.

  8. Scott_T says:

    Yeah, don’t let something like the truth get it the way.

    The Left sometimes, or mostly, doesn’t like that.

    Or at least that’s how they act in public.

  9. Tlaloc says:

    Blackwater employees would not classify under international law as soldiers.

    What do you base that on? They are ofiicially armed and uniformed combatants.

    Also, since their operations are defensive in nature it’ll be interesting to listen to left claim they are war criminals since they are defending a protected class (diplomats & unarmed civilians).

    What part of indiscriminately shooting civilians was “defensive”? What part of it was “defending a protected class”?

    I’m genuinely curious…

    Same left claims insurgents are afforded protected status while conducting offensive operations on same protected class.

    Well, speaking personally, I’d like captured civilians (who may or may not be insurgents) to be treated as prisoners of war. You see part of the problem is that the army has a habit of grabbing everyone and assuming they are insurgents.

    They had to release something like 90% of the detainees at Abu Ghraib when it turned out they were just, you know, innocent. Wouldn’t it be nice for there to be some formal system of evaluating who is an insurgent and who isn’t? Maybe a system that guaranteed the rights of the people in the meantime so you didn’t, say, torture innocents for no particular reason?

  10. Tlaloc says:

    well here’s what I found

    according to the Geneva Convention a mercenary is:

    1. A mercenary shall not have the right to be a combatant or a prisoner of war.
    2. A mercenary is any person who:
    (a) is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
    (b) does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
    (c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
    (d) is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
    (e) is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
    (f) has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.

    Wiki

    Blackwater employees (at least any who are american which would seem to be the lion’s share) would fail requirement 2d. That means they better pray they are soldiers because otherwise they become unlawful combatants.

    I’m sorry for interrupting, you guys were boasting about facts or something…

  11. bob in fl says:

    Yetanotherjohn: The Blackwater agents involved cannot be tried for the crimes they may already have committed under this law. That would be unconstitutional – something about you can’t pass a law making something already done illegal. So talk of a pardon is out.

    Looks like tlaloc hit the nail on the head; they would be considered unlawful combatants under the Geneva Conventions.

    Bush & Cheney gotta be sputtering right now. Looks like Congress is going to tell them, “Veto THIS, Sucker!”

  12. Steve Verdon says:

    Pretty good Tlaloc, but does this mean you accept the fact that the U.S. is currently in a state of war? If not, then the claim of a war crime becomes somewhat problematic. Further, while directing attacks at civilians is grounds for claiming a war crime has been committed, I don’t think it is so simple as saying: civilians were killed as a result of this combat engagement therefore war crime. If that is the case then the U.S. was horrifically guilty of war crimes during WWII. And if this is indeed your standard then how do you view former President Bill Clinton for his role in the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia? Finally, your own link indicates that the U.S. has not signed onto that part of the Geneva Convention so that too would make the issue somewhat problematic. And last, but not least there is the claim, however dubious, that they were not civilians who were killed.

  13. Tlaloc says:

    Pretty good Tlaloc, but does this mean you accept the fact that the U.S. is currently in a state of war? If not, then the claim of a war crime becomes somewhat problematic.

    Not really, the term war crime is usually defined in terms of a “conflict” there’s no stipulation that said conflict has to involve a formally declared war.

    Beside the US is definitively not in a state of war because there are various laws and provisions which come into affect when war is officially declared, and that has not happened. For example Iraqis have not been classified as “Enemy Aliens” as per here.

    Further, while directing attacks at civilians is grounds for claiming a war crime has been committed, I don’t think it is so simple as saying: civilians were killed as a result of this combat engagement therefore war crime.

    True, but notice I used the term “indiscriminately.” I perhaps should have added “intentionally.” If you’ve kept up on the Blackwater story you know the mercenaries in question ar charged with deliberately attacking civilians without provocation. Or in one case murdering an iraqi security officer because of an argument.

    And if this is indeed your standard then how do you view former President Bill Clinton for his role in the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia?

    I wasn’t aware Clinton had a hand in that, last time I looked at it it was a *&^%-up by the CIA who couldn’t bother to buy current maps.

    Finally, your own link indicates that the U.S. has not signed onto that part of the Geneva Convention so that too would make the issue somewhat problematic.

    Not as problematic as you might think, it’s true the US didn;t sign on but since that is the portion of the GC that deals with mercenaries that means the Blackwater forces have no classification in the GC putting them where? That’s right, back at illegal combatants.

    Remember *I* was willing to give them some benefit of the doubt and call them soldiers in the first place.

    And last, but not least there is the claim, however dubious, that they were not civilians who were killed.

    That’s for the court to decide. By all means give them a fair trial, they might be innocent.