Monday, November 5, 2007

'Don't blame Blackwater'

It's wrong to blame Blackwater for its aggressive security tactics when protecting diplomats, because the State Department requires those tactics in its contract. So argues blogger R. J. Hillhouse in the Christian Science Monitor.

The issue "isn't an overly aggressive contractor," she writes. "It's the State Department's zero tolerance for casualties of its employees in Iraq. Such an approach makes tragedies such as the September episode more common – and it marginalizes the lives of innocent Iraqis who just might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Placing so many diplomats and civil servants on nation-building assignments in the middle of a civil war has a high price – perhaps too high, as officials at State have finally started to acknowledge.

"The US government appears to tolerate a certain number of casualties from the all-volunteer military. But civilian employees are a different story. Images of dead diplomats being dragged through Iraqi streets or videotaped beheadings of civil servants, it's assumed, would undermine already tenuous public support of the war.

"The very branch of the US government charged with fostering relations with the Iraqi government and people is responsible for the behavior that has helped erode support from the Iraqi populace. The State Department Diplomatic Security Service set up aggressive rules for the use of force for its contractors in what's called the Mission Firearms Policy. These rules are more aggressive than those used by the military for its contracted forces. In fact, the Secretary of State's Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq recommended last month that these guidelines be amended to require basic assurances: 'due regard for safety of innocent bystanders,' 'every effort to avoid civilian casualties,' and only aimed shots – a nod to the fact that pointing and spraying rounds isn't explicitly banned," Hillhouse says.

"The American public and Congress should not be distracted by the fact that the State Department's grittier work was outsourced to a contractor. They should not allow the government to let a contractor take the fall while it sidesteps accountability for a cold calculus that its diplomats and aid workers have to be protected at all costs – costs that may include some innocent Iraqi lives."

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