Washington — LAWFUEL – Truthout.org reports that the State Department, which is facing growing criticism of its policy on private security contractors, overlooked repeated warnings from U.S. diplomats in the field that guards were endangering Iraqi civilians and undermining U.S. efforts to win support from the population, according to current and former U.S. officials.
Ever since the contractors were granted immunity from Iraqi courts in June 2004 by the U.S.-led occupation authority, diplomats have cautioned that the decision to do so was “a bomb that could go off at any time,” said one former U.S. official.
But State Department leadership, unable to field U.S. troops or in-house personnel to guard its team, has clung to an approach that shielded the contractors from criminal liability, in the hope of ensuring continued protection to operate in the violent countryside.
The procedures have come under critical scrutiny since a Sept. 16 shooting involving contractors for Blackwater USA, the State Department’s main security contractor, killed at least 11 Iraqis and set off a series of American and Iraqi investigations.
On Friday, in a tacit acknowledgment of the policy’s shortcomings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered drastic increases in supervision of the security contractors. Meanwhile, the House, flatly rejecting the current approach, on Thursday approved in a 389-30 vote legislation that would subject contractors to U.S. criminal law.
The developments – and the dramatically heightened attention to violence involving security contractors – have not surprised current and former officials who have served in Iraq and seen incidents that injured Iraqis and destroyed their property.
“It’s about time,” said Janessa Gans, who was a U.S. official in Iraq for nearly two years, describing her reaction to news that the Iraqi government was threatening to expel Blackwater in the aftermath of the Sept. 16 shooting.