Sunday, September 28, 2008

Spinning Headlines or Just Plain Ignorant?

Amnesty International used to have a great reputation as a champion of prisoners of conscience and human rights in general, but in recent years it's good name for objectivity and principle has become a bit tarnished.

Take this pompous headine from its "report" marking the one-year anniversary of the shootout at Nisoor Square in Iraq: "On Anniversary of Civilian Shootings by Blackwater in Iraq, Amnesty International Calls on US Government to Hold Military Contractors Accountable."

All well and good, but where has Amnesty been over the past year? The headline shows the group is way, way behind the curve, out of touch with the facts, and reduced to a Scahillian poodle nipping and yapping to make itself relevant in the media.

That's too bad, because Amnesty could be adding a lot to the debate on private military and security contractors, and to accountability in general.

Let's pick apart Amnesty's September 22 release and get to the facts:

Amnesty: "Amnesty International today condemned the US government for failing to hold anyone accountable for the deaths."

Fact: The US government has been working hard to hold people accountable for the deaths. As Blackwaterfacts reported on August 18 - a month before Amnesty's statement - the Justice Department sent "target letters" to six Blackwater guards, the first public indication that individuals have been targeted for prosecution. Like it or not, American justice is slow and deliberate. It can't be speeded up to coincide with anniversaries.

Amnesty: "'The U.S. government has failed to ensure legal accountability for widespread abuses by civilian contractors,' said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. 'Iraqi and U.S. investigations have determined that this assault was an unjustifiable use of force against civilians. And yet, a year later, we are still waiting for justice in this case. Robust protections must be in place to guarantee that personnel are held accountable for indiscriminate shootings and killings of civilians.'"

Fact: Cox is mistaken; the accountability measures are in place, as this blog reported last November. Congress has modernized its laws and the administration has tightened its procedures. Amnesty International seems not to realize that Blackwater CEO Erik Prince personally asked Congress for tightened accountability in his testimony before the Waxman Committee on October 2, 2007.

Finally, Amnesty quotes Congressman David Price (D-NC) about the need to expand the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA).

Again, Amnesty is way behind. Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince publicly called for accountability under MEJA. The Blackwater chief endorsed Congressman Price's call for other types of expanded accountability nearly a year ago during the Waxman hearings. The House, with full bipartisan support, overwhelmingly passed the Blackwater-approved legislation a few days later.

The timeline shows that Blackwater has been further out-front on the accountability issue than has Amnesty International.

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