Black deeds

The dismissal by a US federal court of murder charges against five private security guards who had killed 17 Iraqis and injured many others in 2007 in unprovoked firing has disappointed all those who had considered it to be a test case of American justice. The shooting in the busy Nisoor square in Baghdad had attracted attraction for many reasons. It exposed in unfavourable light the US government’s practice of employing private security contractors, in this case the Blackwater company, for duty in Iraq. The killings increased the rift between the Iraqi government and the US administration and were a turning point in attitudes. The case also underlined the nature of colonial justice. The culprits had immunity from Iraqi laws and could be tried only under US laws, though the offence took place in Iraq and against Iraqis.

The dismissal of the case may be seen as the result of either a failure of the prosecution or a strict and even blind adherence by the court to the law. The judge threw out the charges because the prosecution case rested heavily on the defendants’ statements which were given under the promise of immunity or under threat. There was irrefutable objective evidence for the security guards’ criminal shooting at a civilian crowd but  for some reason the prosecutors focused on tainted evidence. While the judgment may have upheld the rights of the defendants to a fair trial, it ignored the right of Iraqis to justice.
The security firm Blackwater, in its new name Xe, has again figured in the suicide attack by the Taliban on a CIA base in Afghanistan where the  firm lost two of its staff and the CIA five of its operatives. The entire US establishment is distressed and angry over the loss of lives. But Iraqis and Afghans would want America to show the same kind of concern when the lives of their people are taken by Americans. There cannot be different standards to judge killings, and lives of Iraqis are not cheaper than those of Americans. The Iraqi government has disagreed with the court decision and reiterated in public that the security guards were guilty of murder. The US justice department is considering to appeal the decision but the general view is that the case has been damaged beyond retrieval. The credibility of the US justice system has suffered, as it would be felt that the prosecution deliberately sabotaged the case.

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