Blackwater guards jail sentence ‘is symbolic punishment, smokescreen’

Members of the US blackwater security firm scan Baghdad city centre from their helicopter 05 February 2005. (AFP Photo)
The jail sentence for four former Blackwater security guards responsible for the deaths of fourteen civilians in Iraq looks like a symbolic punishment, Iraq war veteran Emily Yates told RT. She doesn’t see this trend for further punishment will continue.

Four guards who worked for the US military contractor, formerly known as Blackwater, have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms for killing unarmed civilians in Baghdad in 2007. The sentences were handed down a day before Secretary of State John Kerry was due to meet the Iraqi prime minister.

RT:A federal judge in Washington gave long prison terms to four Blackwater Worldwide guards convicted in the 2007 shooting that killed 14 unarmed Iraqis. Do you think the US is really trying to restore justice or is just making a demonstrative move?

Emily Yates: It’s a really interesting question because the US has itself committed a lot of killings of unarmed civilians by accident. But I think that these Blackwater guards, the shooters … were able to feel free to do what they did because there is typically so little oversight on military contractors, there is not a whole lot of risk that they generally face. And I think without being an expert in this kind of thing it seems like this could just be a symbolic punishment of these four individuals. I don’t see that this trend of punishing those who are responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians is going to continue. So it seems like a little bit of a smokescreen to me.

 A picture taken on July 5, 2005 shows contractors of the US private security firm Blackwater securing the site of a roadside bomb attack near the Iranian embassy in central Baghdad. (AFP Photo)

The thing that is being left out in this discussion about the Blackwater massacre is: A) the occupation of Iraq should never have happened in the first place and B) once it did happen and the US didn’t have their troop strength needed to maintain stability in Iraq we began to see all kinds of private contractors such as Blackwater taking a real role in Iraq, and a role that wouldn’t have been necessary if it wasn’t for this ill-advised invasion and occupation. And there has been no real accountability for the people who started that in the beginning: Dick Cheney and George W. Bush and everybody associated with the ramp up to the Iraq war. There has been no accountability for that and so the idea that having accountability for these four individuals who…were probably trying to get a lot of money because Blackwater paid a whole lot and probably still does under its new name. These people are being held up as the aggressors rather than those who began what I believe half of Americans now agree to be a mistaken invasion of Iraq in the first place, and it’s pretty much widely known throughout the country that the Iraq war was not a war that should have happened.

RT:Washington seeks now to strengthen ties with Iraq as it tries to fight Islamic State in the region. Do you think Baghdad would trust the US?

EY: Most of the involvement that the US had in Iraq has done more harm in the region than good, and thus far all of our attempts to arm the appropriate people that we want to succeed I suppose usually ended up with those weapons or money being lost, or weapons getting turned over to enemy forces. And there is not a whole lot of oversight so I don’t know why Baghdad should trust the US. It seems pretty clear that Iraq’s interest and the interests of the Iraqi people are not a priority for the US; [otherwise] we would have created some kind of better infrastructure for Iraq while we were there before the “end of combat operations”. I can’t imagine that there would be a whole lot of trust of the US in Iraq. If I were Iraqi I wouldn’t trust us.

READ MORE: Ex-Blackwater guards get life, 30-year sentences for Baghdad massacre

RT:Iraq's Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, will arrive in the United States on a visit where he is expected to request additional weapons to fight Islamic State. Will America's weapons help Iraq?

EY: I would say that American weapons so far have gone all over the place in Iraq not always helping the people of Iraq but generally just serving to empower militant groups to use them and to continue its power struggle. Essentially it seems that the US created a pretty intense power vacuum in Iraq and then this kind of sectarian violence took root and the whole government system is weakened right now which is why the Islamic State fighters are able to make as much headway as they are. So I would say that adding weapons from the US to this struggle is a sort of pouring gasoline on a fire. So I don’t think it will help, no.

RT:How do you expect relations between Iraq and the US to develop?

EY: I think that the relationship between the US and Iraq depends on the Iraqi government’s willingness to comply with US demands on resources used in the region, where the US is allowed to basically run amok in the Iraqi government and infrastructure, how many bases and troops are allowed to operate within Iraq without oversight by the Iraqi government or falling under the Iraqi judicial system. I think there are a lot of factors involved but the trend seems to be that as long as a leader of the Iraqi government who is compliant with the US, the relationship will continue to at least be normally amicable although it seems like the gloves are sort of coming off all around the world as far as it is trying to gain strategic power in the region.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.