After we learned of the horrible killing of 14 civilians in Iraq by Blackwater personnel last November, almost anything seems possible. Indeed, we are still learning about these private contractors and all the harm they are causing. An article in today’s New York Times tells of women who have been sexually assaulted, and then fired by KBR for speaking up to their employers. Really nice stuff.
But the problem is deeper than the fundamental injustice of the treatment of these women. The worst part is that, unlike members of the military, abusive KBR employees can get off scot-free for their crimes. To begin with, they are immune to prosecution (because they are not technically government workers). According to the Times, “In cases involving sexual assault, soldiers and other military personnel can be prosecuted under the military justice system, but that system does not apply to contractors.” But even in civilian courts back in the States, justice still cannot be obtained by these women, as the extent of the law over private contractors in foreign war zones still has yet to be determined, this far into the war. (Incidentally, all of the above is true of the Blackwater employees who indiscriminately killed innocent civilians last Fall).
These contractors are Americans. Whether they commit crimes while being hired out by our government to do work overseas in Iraq, or whether they do the same horrible things to other Americans here on American soil, they should be prosecuted. There ought to be less obscurity, and fewer barriers, on the road to justice. Until that happens, Iraq is utterly lawless – not just in the usual sense (that is, the insurgencies and sectional conflicts that is going on) – but also in the sense that you can go there, as a civilian working for a private corporation, and kill or rape people, without being held accountable.
It has been clear for some time that post-Saddam Iraq will be a turbulent place with little law or stability. Only now is it becoming clear that the place is also a sanctuary for criminals who happen to be working for private corporations with clout.