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Blackwater: mercenaries gone wild?

By Scott Tibbs, November 24, 2007

I had not been following the scandal involving Blackwater, a private security firm contracted by the State Department to protect diplomats in Iraq. Based on the little I had read about the case, I was skeptical of Blackwater and believed that more strict oversight was required of these forces, but had not read enough to make an informed opinion on the topic. After being challenged on the issue elsewhere, I bookmarked several articles to learn more about the story. What I found was disturbing, to say the least. Below, I have listed a large number of quotes from the coverage of the scandal in the New York Times.

It should be clear that Blackwater employees have engaged in unacceptable behavior and have likely committed crimes. Blackwater's contract should be immediately revoked and all Blackwater mercenaries should be expelled from Iraq. It would be helpful for diplomatic relations for President Bush to personally apologize for Blackwater's reckless behavior. Keeping in mind that it is critical to observe their due process rights, Blackwater mercenaries should be prosecuted for any crimes committed. If convicted, they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Any Blackwater mercenary who committed a capital crime such as murder should be executed.

All of this must be done under American law, however. I disagree with allowing Blackwater or any other mercenary force to be prosecuted by Iraqi authorities. There is too much political pressure to "get" someone for the deaths, and people who may have used force justifiably could become a victim of political persecution. I do not trust that the Iraqi justice system will safeguard the civil liberties of American citizens.

I have used the word "mercenary" or a variation of it several times in this article. Are Blackwater employees mercenaries? Several definitions of the word "mercenary" involve a soldier hired to serve a foreign power, while Blackwater employees are Americans. However, they are not part of the U.S. armed forces; they are independent contractors hired for a specific duty. While the term may not apply perfectly, I believe it is appropriate. That, however, is a minor point that is irrelevant to the overall issue of independent contractors providing security in Iraq.

As Americans, we need to take precautions not to kill innocent people and to hold ourselves to a high moral standard. This is even more important for followers of Jesus Christ, because we will give an account for how we treat innocent people during wartime. Following the rules of war and observing human rights is not just a good idea; it is a mandate from God that must be taken seriously. It is unconscionable that mercenaries have been allowed to operate with significantly less scrutiny than U.S. troops. Reforms should not be under consideration in November 2007; strict rules and standards of behavior should have been in place before the invasion even started. It is never too late to correct the mistakes of the past, though, and that should be done as soon as possible.