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David Isenberg

David Isenberg

Posted: December 1, 2010 09:40 PM

It is time for the second excerpt from the forthcoming book Armed Humanitarians by Nathan Hodge. Click here for the first excerpt.

In the first part Hodge detailed how private security contractors while, admittedly, doing necessary, even vital work, could also be pain in the butt, for both Iraqi civilians and U.S. military and that accountability was a "fiction."

In this excerpt Hodge details some of the problems with laws that have been passed to supposedly provide oversight and jurisdiction over PSC if they commit a crime. He also makes a point I have been noting for years; that the State Department has been both complicit in past PSC wrongdoings and hypocritical in their response. Perhaps a future Wikileaks cable will provide detail on this under covered but very important point.

Prince did acknowledge one of the main arguments made against armed contractors: That they operated without any oversight or any jurisdiction. "As of 31 December [2004] that ended," he said. "The president signed a law, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which previously applied to anyone on a defense contract, now it's any U.S. dollars that fund a contract overseas, that contractor can be brought to justice by the U.S. Justice Department."

Prince was, in theory, correct. The Fiscal Year 2005 Department of Defense Authorization Act Congress amended MEJA to extend its jurisdictional coverage. The revisions had tightened a loophole to extend jurisdiction to all contractors - not just those employed directly by the U.S. Defense Department. The legislation creating MEJA acknowledged that there had been a longstanding "jurisdictional gap" that had allowed crimes by battlefield contractors to go unpunished.

But there was still the problem of enforcement. The report language accompanying the original bill was prescient. "Often, the only remedy available to the United States Government with respect to military dependents and civilian employees and contractors who commit crimes in foreign countries is to limit their use of facilities on the installation where they live, or bar their entry onto the installation altogether, which often causes them to return to the United States," the report stated. "In any event, however, the fact that the person who committed the act may return to the United States does not give rise to any jurisdiction in the United States to try the crime he or she committed abroad."

That, in effect, is what would happen when a Blackwater contractor shot and killed the local bodyguard of Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi in Baghdad's Green Zone on Christmas Eve, 2006. The contractor - later identified in the press as Andrew Moonen - was off duty and had been drinking heavily when he wandered near the Iraqi prime minister's compound, got into an altercation with the bodyguard and shot him three times. The contractor fled the scene, and was later apprehended by the International Zone police, who determined that he was too drunk for questioning. The following day, Blackwater fired him for cause - possession of a firearm while intoxicated - and on December 26, they whisked him out of the country on a flight to Jordan. The contractor then returned to the United States, a free man.

Stunningly, the State Department was informed of the incident - and of Blackwater's arrangements to spirit Moonen out of the country. According to a Diplomatic Security Service incident report, the contractor was returned to the United States "under the authority of a DOS Regional Security Officer." In internal correspondence that followed, embassy officials discussed ways to paper over the incident. In an e-mail the day after the incident, the Charge d'Affaires (the acting ambassador) urged the Regional Security Officer to follow up and make sure the company did "all possible to assure that a sizeable compensation is forthcoming." A prompt apology and compensation, the Charge d'Affaires reasoned, would be the "best way" to ensure that the Iraqis did not take measures to sanction Blackwater - or bar them from operating in Iraq. The Charge d'Affaires proposed a payment of $250,000, then $100,000, prompting a diplomatic security officer to complain that such "crazy sums" would tempt Iraqis "to try to get killed so as to set up their families financially." The State Department and Blackwater agreed on a payment of $15,000 to the slain bodyguard's family. Summarizing the concerns of the diplomatic security office, an official wrote: "This was an unfortunate event but we feel that it doesn't reflect on the overall Blackwater performance. They do an exceptional job under very challenging circumstances. We would like to help them resolve this so we can continue with our protective mission."

In other words, the State Department's Regional Security Office in Baghdad was so preoccupied with protecting diplomats that it was willing to let Moonen walk free. Blackwater was performing its narrow mission magnificently, shielding U.S. diplomats from harm. Company officials often pointed out with pride that no diplomat in their care had ever been killed. But the risk-averse mentality of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security had reached a logical extreme in Iraq. The incident was hushed up, although a slightly inaccurate report did air on the Al-Arabiya satellite television network identifying the shooter as a U.S. soldier. Blackwater would continue operating in Iraq. To Iraqis, that sent a message, that one of our diplomats is worth a hundred of you.

 
 
 

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