Friday, August 22, 2008

US Is Creating a 'Destabilizing' Situation by Letting Iraqis Try American Contractors

By negotiating with Iraq to revoke the immunity of American private security contractors from Iraq's undeveloped and corrupt legal system, the US is creating a "destabilizing" situation.

That's what two scholars from the center-left New America Foundation write in an important piece in today's Wall Street Journal.

The "positive" effects of an expected prosecution of Blackwater contractors for their alleged role in the September 2007 Nisoor Square incident risk:

being overshadowed by a more destabilizing development: the apparent agreement, as part of U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement negotiations, to revoke the immunity from Iraqi law that private security contractors have enjoyed since 2003. This decision could place diplomats, Iraqi civilians and PSCs at greater risk, and undermine the US mission in Iraq. More must be done to hold security contractors accountable for their actions -- but this is not the way to do it.

The problem of accountability, scholars Michael A. Cohen and Maria Figueroa Kupcu argue, is not going to be solved by handing Americans over to Iraqi justice, whatever that might be. To the contrary; it would only make things worse:

placing contractors at the mercy of an underdeveloped Iraqi legal system is not a solution. Greater liability for PSCs will also bring a higher price tag. Furthermore, PSC ranks will become deprofessionalized, as many of the most experienced contractors may decide that the risks of being thrown in an Iraqi prison are not worth a paycheck.
That would mean increasing reliance on third-country or local nationals, who lack the professionalism of the US, British, Australian and other PSCs. There's little accountability there - and much less security for the protectees.

"There are better ways to ensure accountability," Cohen and Kupcu maintain. "In 2006, Congress extended the Uniform Code of Military Justice to cover Pentagon contractors. Legislation in Congress now would place State Department contractors under the jurisdiction of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act. The bill, which would also create an office of enforcement in the FBI to investigate alleged contractor offences, is opposed by the Bush administration. But its eventual enactment would go a long way toward clearing up much of the legal confusion surrounding contractors.

"Unfortunately, at the exact moment that contractor-related accountability issues are being taken more seriously, the Bush administration is negotiating an agreement with the Iraqi government that would weaken protections for PSCs, and risk undermining the professionalization of the private contractors protecting US diplomats."

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