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Getting Away With Diplomatic Murder

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New records released after a four year FOIA fight between the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the web site Gawker show that mercenaries, primarily from Blackwater, shot and sometimes killed a lot of Iraqis in the name of protecting America's diplomats. The mercs, er, the private security companies, were supposed to be operating under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's command and control but instead shot up Iraq like outcasts from the Road Warrior.

History, right? No, because those same administrators in Diplomatic Security that allowed Blackwater to run wild are in charge of 5,500 new private security contractors hired to protect the World's Largest Embassy now that the U.S. Army has bugged out of Iraq. Here's what can go wrong.

The 4500 pages just released are filled with contact/incident reports from 2004-2007. Every time a Blackwater shooter cranked off a few rounds at some Iraqi, he was supposed to file a report. Diplomatic Security would validate the shoot as having taken place under its own rules and that would be that. No attempts were made to seriously investigate anything, no attempts were made to find out what happened to any of the Iraqis popped by American hired guns and certainly no attempts to rein in Blackwater are documented. You can read the full trove, or feast on some highlights Gawker has pulled out.

Here's one example:

In February 2005, a Blackwater team fired hundreds of rounds at two different "aggressive" cars during an operation in Baghdad. Team members subsequently told State Department investigators that 1) one of the cars' occupants fired on them, striking a vehicle in the motorcade, and 2) one of the cars was on a Be on the Lookout list as a suspected insurgent vehicle. Both were lies.

State Department investigators came to the conclusion that the Blackwater team was unjustified in firing on the cars, coordinated their stories to avoid suspicion, and lied about it later.

When investigators briefed [the State Department Regional Security Officer, RSO] on their findings and inquired about what disciplinary actions were to occur, RSO informed the investigators that any disciplinary actions would be deemed as lowering the morale of the entire [personal security detail] entity." No one knows if the occupants of the targeted cars were injured of killed.

Or this email from an Embassy staffer:

When was the last time we looked into all the other contractor PSD elements running around Iraq? I'm hearing stories of quite a few PSD elements moving from Mosul to Irbil firing up to 50 rounds per move and using bullets like we use hand and arm signals, flashers, or a water bottle. [PSD = Personal Security Detachment. PSD Security teams would often toss plastic water bottles at the windshield of a suspicious car to get the driver's attention--Ed.]

Nisoor Square

The public reason for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq is that Iraq refused to grant them immunity from local law, particularly immunity should they kill any Iraqi. But despite the long legacy of bloodshed which became frighteningly common place for many Iraqis, the refusal of immunity is more likely tied to one horrible, bad day in Nisoor Square, where in 2007 Blackwater mercenaries hired by the State Department gunned down 14-17 Iraqis and wounded 20 more. Such killings occurred almost daily in Iraq, but what made this one tragically memorable is that despite almost overwhelming evidence that the victims were innocent, technicalities in U.S. law were used to prevent the shooters from being prosecuted.

Good news: State's current 5,500 mercs in Iraq have been granted immunity from local law, under existing diplomatic agreements. They'll be free to do what the U.S. military could not, kill Iraqis as needed by America.

Hasn't State cleaned up its command and control act since 2007?

A now-defunct watchdog panel, the Commission on Wartime Contracting, questioned whether the State Department is prepared to continue its work in Iraq once the U.S. military withdraws. "Our concerns remain very much alive," the commission's co-chairman, Christopher Shays, said in his opening statement back in June 2011.

Shays also focused on what he said was State Department refusal to document its rationale for not taking action against contractors officially recommended for suspension or disbarment. "That response approaches the borderline of government negligence," Shays said.

The sole witness appearing before the panel was Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. He described how the Department increased its oversight of contractors. Among other things, State hired 102 additional people in Washington to administer these contracts.

In Iraq, basically the already over-worked Regional Security Officer (RSO) will oversee any whacky hijinks of the merc army. In fact, they might even do bed checks: Kennedy stated "Collocation of contractor life-support areas on Embassy, Consulate, or Embassy Branch Office compounds will enhance after-hours oversight of contractor personnel," so it's lights out on time guys and no doing vodka shots off each others' butts like in Afghanistan.

But what will cause an already busy RSO to really focus on stopping State Department-sponsored murder in Iraq? Kennedy explained "As initial steps, we plan to create a Contracting Officer Representative (COR) Award to highlight contract administration achievements, and publish an article in State Magazine highlighting the importance of contract administration and the valuable role of the COR." Magazine article, got it, feelin' safer already.

But what about stuff like in 2007 when State's Blackwater mercs gunned down unarmed Iraqis in Nisoor Square? Kennedy again: "Improving the image of the security footprint through enhanced cultural sensitivity: Mandatory country-specific cultural awareness training for all security contractors prior to deployment to Iraq; Revised standards of conduct, including a ban on alcohol."

Of course allowing the mercs to drink in Iraq (And oh do they drink. I saw it myself. The wildest, most debauched parties, including public nudity, cross-dressing and group vomiting ever were on the security contractor compounds and I say that having gone to a football-heavy state school) from 2003 until today has worked out, so wonder why the change now?

"We fully understand that we still have challenges ahead as we carry out our diplomatic missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations where we rely on contingency contracting,"

Bottom Line

Perhaps none of this will matter. American Ambassador James Jeffrey, in Baghdad, said that "If we move out into the Iraqi economy, out into the Iraqi society in any significant way, it will be much harder to protect our people." Perhaps America's diplomats will remain inside their compound and have little need to call out their guards.

If those guards are summoned, absolutely nothing in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's public history of exercising command and control over its large mercenary army would allow one to conclude that the future looks good. Instead, the likelihood of large groups of armed men, hired to kill if necessary on behalf of America's diplomats, will write the more significant chapters of our continued engagement with Iraq. In Iraq, 2012, God save the Iraqis who cross them.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or any other entity of the US Government. The Department of State does not approve, endorse or authorize this blog post.

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