Saturday, September 10, 2005

Impunity for Security Contractors in Iraq

The Washington Post today carries a story about security contractors who seem to be getting away with murder in Iraq. Indeed, these guys (which includes a number of Salvadorans, Colombians and Chileans, although they are not mentioned specifically) can shoot to kill with less risk of prosecution than either U.S. or Iraqi regular forces.
Employees of private security firms are immune from prosecution in Iraq, under an order adopted into law last year by Iraq's interim government. The most severe punishment that can be applied to them is revocation of their license and dismissal from their job, U.S. officials said. Their heavy presence stems in large part from the Pentagon's attempts to keep troop numbers down by privatizing jobs that would once have been performed by American forces.
Perhaps you'll say any incidents are not the norm, as a U.S. Embassy spokesperson quoted in the story tries to allege. But the Post story contains a contrary perspective:
"These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them, so you can't come down on them hard when they escalate force," said Brig. Gen. Karl R. Horst, deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, which is responsible for security in and around Baghdad. "They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place."
The story leads with one disturbing incident, but you have to read to the end to see the consequences of the investigation:
The pop of a single rifle shot broke the relative calm of Ali Ismael's morning commute here in one of Iraq's safest cities.

Ismael, his older brother Bayez and their driver had just pulled into traffic behind a convoy of four Chevrolet Suburbans, which police believe belonged to an American security contractor stationed nearby. The back door of the last vehicle swung open, the brothers said in interviews, and a man wearing sunglasses and a tan flak jacket leaned out and leveled his rifle.

"I thought he was just trying to scare us, like they usually do, to keep us back. But then he fired," said Ismael, 20. His scalp was still marked by a bald patch and four-inch purple scar from a bullet that grazed his head and left him bleeding in the back seat of his Toyota Land Cruiser.

"Everything is cloudy after that," he said.

A U.S. investigation of the July 14 incident concluded that no American contractors were responsible, a finding disputed by the Ismaels, other witnesses, local politicians and the city's top security official, who termed it a coverup. No one has yet been held responsible.

(final grafs)
...Police said the convoy of Suburbans quickly proceeded from the scene to a base operated by the U.S. Agency for International Development that is guarded by DynCorp International, an American firm.

An investigation by U.S. officials concluded that "the evidence clearly indicates the vehicle was fired on from the rear by an as yet unknown party and not from the front by the" security company, according to a July 15 report filed with Kurdish security officials.

The report offered "working theories" to explain the shooting, including the possibility that it resulted from an insurgent ambush in which the Ismaels' Land Cruiser was simply "in the wrong place at the wrong time," or an attempt to assassinate Bayez Ismael, a Kurdistan Democratic Party official.

Abdullah Ali, director of the Irbil security police, called the U.S. report "three pages of lies to try to cover up that their company was involved."

"We looked at all the evidence," he continued. "Witnesses only saw a shot from the front. And we found his hair and blood towards the back window, which supports that. We are 1 million percent sure."

In an e-mail response to questions, DynCorp spokesman Gregory Lagana pointed to the embassy investigation. "We have confirmed that our people in the Irbil area did not leave their compound that day," he wrote.

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