Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Blackwater still swirling in aftermath of Iraq invasion
Word from Washington that the Justice Department decided Monday not to charge a Blackwater Worldwide employee with murder for a killing in Baghdad that he admitted appears to spell the end of U.S. efforts to address the some of the excesses that have come, sadly, to characterize the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The decision followed a line of failures in high-profile cases brought against employees of companies that were armed contractors for the U.S. State Department in Iraq, a still-questionable arrangement with dire constitutional implications that still have not been adequately examined. The most notable prosecution that failed, of course, resulted in the acquittal of five former Blackwater guards who opened fire on civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square in 2007, killing 17, according to the New York Times. The Justice Department decision came in a case involving Andrew Moonen of Seattle, who killed a guard protecting Iraq's vice president on Christmas Eve in 2006. The case was complicated by a blanket grant of immunity to State Department contractors, like Blackwater, but not to Defense Department contractors, immunity granted to Andrew Moonen, the Blackwater employee, by a U.S. Embassy official and by Moonen's claim of self-defense. The Justice Department has investigated the case for four years, and already paid damages to Moonen's family. But the murky legal environment that finally prompted Justice to drop the case is no accident. The government of George W. Bush went to war on dubious evidence and corrupted longstanding legal and constitutional principles along the way. The only real surprises here are that is has taken so long for these cases to be dismissed and the subsequent Obama administration's refusal to investigate misconduct by his predecessor. It will take decades to repair the damage to the legal system of the United States, and may take even longer for the country to regain its moral footing unless such an investigation is undertaken. The issue is not whether anyone will have to prison, although it may come to that. The future of the United States is on the line here -- the sooner the reckoning begins, the better for everyone.