Saturday, January 23, 2010
Prosecuting Blackwater guards changes very little
Even if the U.S. government is successful in having murder and other charges reinstated against five Blackwater security guards implicated in the shooting deaths of 14 civilians in a Baghdad intersection in 2007, it may help somewhat in soothing some suspicions among the leaders of Iraqi society but is probably not going to do anything to heal the fundamental damage done to the United States. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday on a visit to Iraq that Washington would appeal a federal judge's decision tossing out the charges because the guards' constitutional rights had been violated by the government. "The United States is determined, determined to hold accountable anyone who commits crimes against the Iraqi people," Biden said, according to the Reuters international news service. "While we fully respect the independence and integrity of the U.S. judicial system, we were disappointed by the judge's decision to dismiss the indictment, which was based on the way in which some evidence had been acquired." The dismissal reopened long festering wounds among Iraqis disturbed by the massive loss of life in the years that followed the defeat of Saddam Hussein, even though thousands of U.S. serviceman and women also died in the effort to set up a democratic government in Baghdad. The five guards were accused of responsibility in the deaths of the civilians by opening fire in Baghdad's Nisour Square. The guards claimed they began shooting because they thought they were under attack as they were escorting a diplomatic convoy through the city as the height of the insurgency. A sixth guard pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for testimony against the other five. The Nisour Square shooting served to focus attention on the propriety of the military's use of private contractors to fight in Iraq in place of lesser-paid U.S. soldiers. But military adventure undertaken by the Bush administration in Iraq in 2003 also raised serious questions about the constitutional underpinnings of the U.S. government -- questions that will have to be answered if Washington intends to retain any of its traditional moral authority in the new century. The paralysis in the capital in Washington that has prevented any significant legislative progress in the new administration of Barack Obama is symptomatic of this problem -- the train has left the tracks, and the conductor refuses to halt the locomotive. At issue now is the future of the separation of powers doctrine in the U.S. Constitution, the power of the president, the authority of the Congress to declare war and the nation's revered Bill of Rights, which has surely suffered severely. At a time of international challenge, the United States appears leaderless and its citizenry inexcusably uninformed.