Let’s hope this isn’t one of Biden’s gaffes.
Speaking at a Baghdad press conference with Iraqi president Jalal Talabani this Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden said that the US will appeal a federal judge’s dismissal of charges against Blackwater Worldwide contractors, who stand accused of opening fire on Iraqi citizens in 2007. “The U.S. is determined to hold to account anyone who commits crimes against the Iraqi people,” he said.
The 2007 Nisour Square incident, which killed 17 Iraqi civilians, sparked outrage across the region, particularly in Iraq, which eventually demanded Blackwater’s expulsion. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates stirred controversy last week when he appeared to acknowledge that Blackwater still has a presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s interior minister, who has vowed to resign if it is proven that Blackwater is still in Pakistan, dismissed the suggestion this weekend as “part of a conspiracy.”
The Blackwater ire resurfaced last month when a federal judge dismissed charges against five of the contractors involved in the shooting, arguing that the State Department forced them to give incriminating statements, a “reckless violation” of their constitutional rights. One week later, two contractors employed by Paravant, a Blackwater subsidiary, were indicted for the murder of two Afghan civilians in May.
To guarantee the accountability Biden requested, the US government must implement effective regulations to assure that security contractors are not above the law. Despite the lack of permanent regulation, Blackwater (now renamed “Xe Services“) is still in action. Moreover, according to figures that the Pentagon, the State Department, and USAID gave the Government Accountability Office, more than 24,000 private security contractors are still on the government’s payroll in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Demanding full accountability for security contractors will take more than cracking down on the five guards connected to Nisour Square. It means implementing comprehensive regulations and laws for all contractors working under the American banner. Last July, the DOD adopted interim rules to govern the selection and oversight of security contractors abroad. Whether or not the Justice Department resurrects its case against the Blackwater guards, these rules should be strengthened to include clear guidelines for prosecuting private contractors in order to prevent future Nisour Square incidents.