Iraq: License to Kill? License Revoked.

Yesterday, the Interior Ministry of Iraq announced that it was revoking the license of Blackwater USA, a private American company that provides security to government and private officials in Iraq such as Amb. Ryan Crocker.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
Contact Us | Tell-a-Friend | Archives | Permalink


License to Kill? License Revoked.

Yesterday, the Interior Ministry of Iraq announced that it was revoking the license of Blackwater USA, a private American company that provides security to government and private officials in Iraq such as Amb. Ryan Crocker. Employees of the firm were involved in Baghdad shootout that killed at least nine civilians, including a mother and her child. Details of the shootout are murky. The shooting began after a car bomb exploded near a State Department motorcade in central Baghdad. Blackwater and U.S. officials say the security contractors then exchanged fire with armed attackers, but “three people who claimed to have witnessed the shooting” told McClatchy that “only the Blackwater guards were firing.” Regardless, the incident has sent shockwaves through Iraq. “We have canceled the license of Blackwater and prevented them from working all over Iraqi territory,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf. “We will also refer those involved to Iraqi judicial authorities.” A senior Iraqi official, however, told Time that “as far as the license being permanently revoked, ‘it’s not a done deal yet.'” Additionally, it is unlikely that Iraqi courts would have the legal ability to hold the contractors accountable. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Iraqi Prime Minister Mouri al-Maliki yesterday to offer condolences and the promise of a “fair and transparent investigation,” one American official in Baghdad told The New York Times that “this incident will be the true test of diplomacy between the State Department and the government of Iraq.”
THE FALLOUT: Approximately 1,000 Blackwater employees are currently operating in Iraq. If the Iraqi government is able to successfully kick Blackwater out of the country, the move would deal “a blow to U.S. government operations in Iraq by stripping” many “diplomats, engineers, reconstruction officials and others of their security protection.” “There is simply no way at all that the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security could ever have enough full-time personnel to staff the security function in Iraq. There is no alternative except through contracts,” said Crocker in his Senate testimony last week. The Iraqi government has also said that it will “review the status of all private security firms operating in the country” to “determine whether such contractors were operating in compliance with Iraqi law.” The total number of private contractors in Iraq is estimated between 126,000 and 180,000, which includes 20,000 to 50,000 private security guards. The expulsion of Blackwater from Iraq would be a boon for Iraqi politicians as “newspapers in Iraq on Tuesday trumpeted the government’s decision.” Maliki is expected to “gain political capital from the move against unpopular foreign security contractors” while the national government as a whole would be given a political “boost.”

PRIVATE CONTRACTOR’S DARK PAST: “Visible, aggressive” private contractors have “angered many Iraqis, who consider them a mercenary force that runs roughshod over people in their own country.” At Abu Ghraib, “the U.S. Army found that contractors were involved in 36 percent of proven abuse incidents,” but “not a single private contractor named in the Army’s investigation report has been charged, prosecuted or punished.” Though many other private security firms are operating in Iraq, Blackwater is perhaps the most visible. On March 31, 2004, four contractors working for Blackwater were brutally killed in Fallujah. After images of their mutilated bodies were shown hanging from a bridge, the American military laid siege to the city, resulting in some of the most intense fighting of the war. In Dec. 2006, a Blackwater employee allegedly drunkenly killed a guard for the Iraqi Vice President. Instead of being held accountable in Iraq, the contractor was smuggled out of the country and fired by the company. This past May, “Blackwater guards were involved in shooting incidents on consecutive days in Baghdad.” In total, Interior Ministry officials say they have “received reports of at least a half-dozen incidents in which Blackwater guards allegedly shot civilians, far more than any other company.”

A Blackwater employee is not going to be subject to Iraqi courts,” says Scott Silliman, director of the Center on Law, Ethics, and National Security at Duke University. The day before the Coalition Provisional Authority ceased to exist, L. Paul Bremer, the chief American envoy in Iraq, issued CPA Order 17, which “granted American private security contractors immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts.” Though “the Iraqi government has contested the continued application of this order,” they are restrained from “changing or revoking CPA orders,” so the order is still in effect. It is unclear what U.S. laws would govern the actions of private security contractors operating in a foreign country. Though “uniformed military personnel are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and ‘persons serving with or accompanying an armed force in the field’ are technically subject as well,” the application of the UCMJ to these private contractors would likely face constitutional challenges. The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000 covers civilians working for the Department of Defense, but even this would be insufficient to cover Blackwater employees involved in Sunday’s shootout, since they are actually employed by the State Department.

CONGRESS NEEDS TO ACT: Yesterday, House Oversight Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) announced that “the Oversight Committee will be holding hearings to understand what has happened and the extent of the damage to U.S. security interests.” In addition to investigating this specific incident, action needs to be taken that explicitly clarifies what laws govern private contractors and how they can officially be held accountable for their actions. In fall 2006, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) added a clause to the 2007 Defense bill that “changed the law defining UCMJ to cover civilians not just in times of declared war but also contingency operations.” But “no Pentagon guidance has been issued on how this clause might be used by JAGs in the field.” Graham’s clause also didn’t not extend to contractors not working for the Defense Department. Rep. David E. Price (D-NC) “has proposed legislation that would make all contractors, whether they work for the State Department or the Defense Department, to be subject to prosecution under U.S. law.”


ETHICS — INVESTIGATION INTO ROVE’S CORRUPTION IN JEOPARDY DUE TO FUNDING: In April, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) launched a six-member task force examining “the firing of at least one U.S. attorney, missing White House e-mails, and White House efforts to keep presidential appointees attuned to Republican political priorities.” The probe — the most “broad and high-profile inquiry” in the OSC’s history — focused on the activities of Karl Rove and White House political operations that allegedly violated the Hatch Act, which bars federal officials from partisan political activity while on the job. Scott Bloch, head of the OSC, began the investigation promising to “leave no stone unturned,” but has now gone over budget. “Without a last-minute infusion of nearly $3 million, the special task force may be unable to pay its staff and buy the kind of technical assistance it needs.” The office Bloch heads is actually “a White House office, and the House of Representatives apparently told Bloch to go ask for the extra money from the White House.”

A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that “hundreds of millions of people in developing nations will face natural disasters, water shortages and hunger” due to climate change. The report warned that global warming’s effects are already being felt “on every continent, and sooner than expected.” “Professor Martin Parry, who chairs the working group, said today that he was pessimistic about the chances of keeping the increase in global average temperatures below 2C,” which would severely damage the environment. “Africa will be one of the areas worst hit” by climate change; by 2020, “the report warns, up to 250 million Africans may be left short of water, while access to sufficient food is ‘projected to be severely compromised by climate variability and change.'” Coinciding with last month being the “second warmest August on record,” the IPCC stated that “[d]eveloped regions like the US and southern Europe are likely to experience more severe summer heatwaves.

CONGRESS — SENATORS REINTRODUCE HABEAS CORPUS RESTORATION ACT: Yesterday, Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reintroduced the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. The act would restore the right of habeas corpus to so-called enemy combatants, which was stripped by last year’s Military Commissions Act. “I take a back seat to no one, when it comes to defending our national security. … But there is a right way and a wrong way to win the fight we are in,” Dodd said. Though the bill enjoys bipartisan support, some conservatives are determined to fight the measure. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) explained yesterday that “we don’t allow enemy combatants to continue their war against us through the judiciary, through litigation.” As the New York Times wrote, “There is nothing conservative about expressing contempt for the Constitution by denying judicial procedure to prisoners who happen not to be Americans.”


The White House has “told nearly a dozen Cabinet secretaries to send letters to Capitol Hill” rejecting Congress’s proposed new funds for their agencies. The “carefully scripted letters” warn lawmakers that their moves could harm “agency operations” and the “integrity of the budget process.” Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) responded that he was “disappointed” in their “rhetoric.”

A week after he told U.S. lawmakers about “progress” in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus will be in Britain today, briefing Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO), who previously “has not supported Congress using its ability to stop war payments in order to force President Bush to change direction,” said yesterday that Congress should look at cutting off funds. “If it could be done then I think we ought to take a look at it,” Salazar said.

Thirteen senior House members “have been served with subpoenas from defense attorneys representing Brent Wilkes, the former defense contractor charged with bribing imprisoned ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.). None of the lawmakers will comply with the subpoena.”

The Senate will vote today on a bill to provide the District of Columbia with voting rights. The legislation, which has passed the House, would give D.C. a full voting member of the U.S. House while also providing Utah an additional seat.

A day after Iraqi officials ordered Blackwater USA to leave the country, the government has announced that it will “review the status of all private security firms operating in the country.”

Salon writes that Iraqis who seek redress for the deaths of the civilians at the hands of U.S. contractors in a criminal court are out of luck. Because of an order promulgated by the former Coalition Provisional Authority, “there appears to be almost no chance that the contractors involved would be, or could be, successfully prosecuted in any court in Iraq.”

And finally: “Fashionistas all over Capitol Hill hailed Rep. Al Green Monday for rocking his cell phone earpiece during remarks on the House floor. The fashion-forward Texas Democrat may or may not be the first ever lawmaker to sport such a device during remarks on the floor, but he certainly turned heads from C-Span viewers everywhere.” See the photo HERE.

SIGN UP for the Progress Report

Read Our Blog: Think Progress

Under the Radar
Think Fast


An “unprecedented 195 companies received the top score of 100 percent” in Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which measures LGBT-positive practices in businesses.


TEXAS: State officials challenge a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act “requiring jurisdictions with a history of discrimination at the polls to seek permission from the Justice Department” before making any changes.

CALIFORNIA: Federal judge tosses out “lawsuit filed by California that sought to hold the world’s six largest automakers accountable for their contribution to global warming.”

HEALTH CARE: New federal study shows “huge variations” in personal health spending among states.


THINK PROGRESS: International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed El Baradei fights off drumbeat for Iran war, warns pre-war Iraq failures are being repeated.

TV NEWSER: Ratings for Sen. Jack Reed’s (D-RI) pro-withdrawal response beat President Bush’s stay-the-course speech on two major outlets.

CLIMATE PROGRESS: 2007 was the second warmest August in U.S. history.

THE BLOTTER: Investigation of White House politicization jeopardized by underfunding.


“I’ve known Jim Jones for 30 years. It’s not what he’s saying.”
— Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), 9/16/07, on whether retired Gen. James Jones said political reconciliation must occur before security progress in Iraq


“Political reconciliation is the key to ending sectarian violence in Iraq.”
— Jones, 9/6/07, Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.