Sunday, September 23, 2007

Honey, we shrunk their legal system!

In recent days, the issue of the jurisdiction of Iraqi law over US nationals has been bandied about because of the Blackwater shootings that took place in Baghdad several days ago. Spot had a post that mentioned it. Now, it appears that a diplomatic crisis is brewing over the incident, and the Iraqis are planning to bring criminal charges, even though the Blackwater contractors are theoretically "immune" from Iraqi law:

BAGHDAD, Sept. 22 — The Iraqi government said Saturday that it expects to refer criminal charges to its courts within days in connection with a shooting here by a private American security company, and the Interior Ministry gave new details of six other episodes it is investigating involving the company.

The state minister for national security affairs, Shirwan al-Waili, said the government had received little information from the American side in the early days of a joint investigation of the shooting, which involved the company Blackwater USA and left at least eight Iraqis dead. But he said that the Iraqi investigation was largely completed and that he believed the findings were definitive. “The shots fired on the Iraqis were unjustifiable,” he said. “It was harsh and horrible.”

Although Mr. Waili did not spell out what the investigative committee would recommend to the criminal court, a preliminary report of findings by the Interior Ministry, the National Security Ministry and the Defense Ministry stated that “the murder of citizens in cold blood in the Nisour area by Blackwater is considered a terrorist action against civilians just like any other terrorist operation.”

“The criminals will be referred to the Iraqi court system,” it said.

You don't have to be clairvoyant to see that this is not a promising development. And it's not the first time that Blackwater has been involved in shootings that have provoked Iraqi anger:

Iraqi officials indicated that they were weighing the earlier shootings involving Blackwater in their consideration of what the practical consequences of the Nisour Square shooting should be. “The American Blackwater company has made for the seventh time the same mistake against the Iraqis and in different places in Baghdad,” according to a preliminary report from the Iraqi investigation obtained by The New York Times.

According to General Khalaf, the other events under investigation are a Feb. 4 shooting that killed an Iraqi journalist near the Foreign Ministry; a Feb. 7 shooting in which three guards at the Iraqi state television station were killed; a Feb. 14 episode in which Blackwater employees are accused of smashing windshields; a shooting in May that killed one person near the Interior Ministry; a Sept. 9 shooting that killed five people near a Baghdad city government building; and a Sept. 12 shooting that wounded five people in eastern Baghdad.

Here's what the NYT article says about immunity:

Even if murder charges were referred to Iraqi courts, it is unclear what real legal peril would be faced by Blackwater or any of its employees. A provision originally called Order 17, signed by L. Paul Bremer III in 2004, while he was the top American administrator in Iraq, was later enshrined into Iraqi law, effectively giving security companies working for the United States immunity from prosecution here.

Perhaps for that reason, no Western contractors of any kind are known to have been convicted of any crimes in Iraq.

You have to love that term "enshrined," don't you ? Order 17 was put into law when the US was in charge of making law for the Iraqis and apparently has never been repealed since Iraq theoretically got its legal system back. This is a serious challenge to the US by the al-Maliki government, a government that has already fallen out of favor with the US administration. Al-Maliki shows no sign of going down without a fight.

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