Hold U.S. contractors responsible for crimes
Guards employed by a U.S. contractor are accused of firing unprovoked on Iraqi citizens.
ABSENCE of criminal laws covering American security guards in Iraq were glaringly brought to the forefront by an apparently unprovoked shooting incident on Sept. 16 that left at least 11 Iraqis dead. The dangerous legal vacuum has been created by the failure to draw up rules to control U.S. government contractors.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has ordered a review of security practices provided to U.S. diplomats by private companies. The shooting incident involved Blackwater USA, which has an $800 million contract with the State Department to protect diplomats.
While U.S. military forces in Iraq number 163,100, Americans, Iraqis and nationals from other countries working under federal contracts total more than 180,000, most of them for the Pentagon. They build roads, improve infrastructure, transport supplies and, as the Blackwater incident demonstrated, engage in combat.
After U.S. troops stormed Iraq in 2003, American administrators gave U.S. contractors immunity from Iraqi law. Congress instructed the Defense Department last year to draw up rules to bring military contractors under U.S. laws that apply to the armed forces.
The Pentagon has not done so but even if it had, the rules would not apply to Blackwater, whose contract is with the State Department. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, says the recent shooting was the seventh "in cold blood" killing involving Blackwater.
Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who sponsored last year's instruction to the Defense Department, now plan to instruct the Bush administration to put all civilian contractors under the military legal code, subjecting them to courts martial. That change should be made promptly.
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