‘Coincidence? Ex-Blackwater guards convicted as US paves a way back to Iraq’
A US jury found four former security guards guilty of killing unarmed civilians in Iraq seven years ago. The men had been working for the Blackwater security company, now known as Academi. One of the men was convicted of murder, and the others of manslaughter. The shooting in Nisur Square in Baghdad on September 16, 2007 resulted in 17 people killed and dozens wounded. The massacre scandalized the Iraqi and Middle East public and raised the tension four years into the US war in Iraq.
RT:Why did it take seven years to get these convictions?
Peter Mark van Buren: This is the question that I think needs to be asked - why did it take seven years to get these convictions? The basic facts have been known for that entire period of time. There’s been no great gathering of information. There’s been no forensics. There has been no clear reason why it has taken seven years.
The thing that leaves me a little bit questioning about that delay is, in fact, the timing of the decision. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, and I don’t prefer to traffic in conspiracy theories, but after seven years of non-action suddenly at a time when the United States is ready to re-engage deeply in Iraq, perhaps to send more troops back into Iraq, suddenly this incident from seven years ago is cleared up in a way that seems to suggest Americans don’t have the immunity in Iraq that many Iraqis thought they did. Timing is everything.
RT:The men who pulled the triggers are being held to account, we see that. But what about their superiors? Has this gone up the chain of command in any way?
PB: It does not appear to be that way at all. In fact, not only are the superiors not being charged, with no one from the State Department who hired them, allegedly supervised, and in fact for many years helped defend the actions of Blackwater - no one from the State Department is being called to responsibility for any of this.
RT:Do these convictions mean that fuller, thorough investigations could start? Could this open the flood gates in many ways for similar investigations, and similar convictions?
PB: I think it is very unlikely. This case achieved a certain celebrity status, if you will, largely because of the extremity of the violence, and the number of people who were killed. I think that most of the other incidents were small enough and localized enough, and they did not get the media attention, and they will have a tendency to just disappear into history, with respect to the dead Iraqis.
RT:There have been similar cases in Iraq and in Afghanistan as well. How many people have been held accountable over the years? Is this the only case?
PB: I can’t say for certain it is the only case, but it is the only significant case I am aware of. In the military there exist clear procedures on what to be done if an incident, if an atrocity occurs. There are problems with those procedures, and not every incident or atrocity is followed up on. And we acknowledge all that. But there are pathways to finding solutions, finding the answers to those things.
When you hire mercenaries, and that was what Blackwater were - men with guns hired to shoot people on behalf of the United States government, which is clearly a definition of mercenary - there are no rules. And so it is much easier for people to get away with murder than it is for a solider to do the same.
RT:Well you say these are mercenaries but some contractors say civilian casualties are a consequence of urban warfare. Is that any form of defense?
PB: I think that’s a lousy defense if you are talking to the relatives of the dead Iraqis. And it is a lousy defense when you are saying that these individuals in one way or another were representing the United States of America on the ground in Iraq. No, it’s not a defense.
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