A guilty verdict (finally!) on Bush’s Blackwater mercenaries

    Every once in a while, the residual stench from the Bush administration’s Iraq disaster still stings our nostrils.

    Remember Blackwater? The mercenary firm that made big money in Iraq, thanks to the Bush team’s unprecedented efforts to outsource the U.S. occupation and entrust war-fighting to profit-motive privateers? The marauding guns for hire – each was paid $1,222 per day in tax dollars, roughly six times the daily pay of an average U.S. army soldier – who achieved infamy by shooting and killing 17 innocent Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad square, one of the most hideous incidents in Bush’s war?

    You probably don’t remember the ’07 massacre, or much about Blackwater. But the “security” company was back in the news yesterday, when a federal jury in Washington determined that what had transpired in that Baghdad square was criminal. Four Blackwater mercenaries were found guilty (one of murder, three of voluntarily manslaughter), and jailed.

    As federal prosecutor Ronald Machen Jr. rightly pointed out, “these Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns, and grenade launchers on innocent men, women, and children. Today, they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families.”

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    It took seven years to hold the shooters accountable, seven years for the families to get justice, but hey, better late than never. Problem is, we’re inexplicably patting ourselves on the back.

    Machen said, “This verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war.” But let’s not get carried away. The reason it took seven years to hold Blackwater accountable is because the Bush team decreed in 2004 that its private contractors were exempt from Iraqi law. The Iraqi regime wanted to prosecute Blackwater – calling the incident “a terrorist action against civilians, just like any other terrorist operation” – but Uncle Sam said no way.

    What a perfect metaphor for the Bush occupation, which reaped the whirlwind we’re experiencing today. First he staged a needless invasion; then, when it became clear that he needed way more troops than his neoconservative dreamers envisioned, he hired scads of private contractors (Blackwater being a prime beneficiary) to fill the breach. Blackwater CEO Erik Prince hailed from a well-connected, politically-wired Republican family. Before Bush took office, his firm had garnered less than $1 million in federal contracts; after Bush took office, his firm tallied more than $1 billion.

    Privatization – what a sweet deal. As Prince said back then, “We’re trying to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did for the Postal Service.”

    Yeah, well. FedEx doesn’t gallivant with guns.

    In Bush’s Iraq, Blackwater gunsels operated with impunity. The Iraqi government complained in ’07, prior to the Baghdad square shootings, that Blackwater had already been involved in seven violent incidents that year alone. As U.S. Brigadier Gen. Karl Horst reportedly complained to Jeremy Scahill (author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army), “These guys are loose in this country and do stupid stuff….They shoot people, and somebody else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place.”

    And when the State Department tried to launch a probe of Blackwater in ’07 – again, prior to the Baghdad square shootings – Blackwater’s top guy in Iraq reportedly warned (according to department records) “that he could kill” the chief U.S. investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it, as we were in Iraq.” Ah yes, the freedom of private enterprise.

    So we’re left to wonder: How many anti-American insurgents did we create in Iraq, with major assistance from the ill-trained and unaccountable privateers, many of whom abused the prisoners at Abu Ghraib? It’s great that four Blackwater shooters finally have been brought to justice, but that verdict – even if survives the inevitable appeals process – can’t begin to mop Bush’s enduring slop.



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