Blackwater – Unlawful Combatants?

From the LA Times:

As the Bush administration deals with the fallout from the recent killings of civilians by private security firms in Iraq, some officials are asking whether the contractors could be considered unlawful combatants under international agreements.

The guards also operate under immunity from Iraqi law — immunity was granted in 2004 by U.S. officials — and in a murky status with respect to American laws.

The designation of lawful and unlawful combatants is set out in the Geneva Convention.Lawful combatants are nonmilitary personnel who operate under their military’s chain of command. Others may carry weapons in a war zone but may not use offensive force. Under the international agreements, they may only defend themselves.

And running carloads of civilians off the road by any means necessary because they don’t feel like spending time in traffic seems to be one way Blackwater personnel defend themselves.

For a guard who is only allowed to use defensive force, killing civilians violates the law of war, said Michael N. Schmitt, a professor of international law at the Naval War College and a former Air Force lawyer. “It is a war crime to kill civilians unlawfully in an armed conflict,” he said.

What an idiot. Clearly, if those civilians were in a car that didn’t get the heck out of the way quickly, they weren’t civilians, were they?

If the contractors were the aggressors in an incident, they could be deemed to be unlawfully using offensive force, said Scott Silliman, a retired Air Force lawyer and now a professor at Duke University. He said they could claim self-defense only if they had been fired on.

“The only force they can use is defensive force,” Silliman said. “But we may be seeing some instances where contractors are using offensive force, which in my judgment would be unlawful.”

But could they, or should they earn a vacation in a resort in Cuba?

U.S. officials have described many of the suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban affiliates it holds at Guantanamo Bay as unlawful combatants either for taking part in hostilities against the United States or by supporting the hostilities while not part of a nation’s military.

By that standard, some of the private guards in Iraq and Afghanistan also could be seen as unlawful combatants, particularly if they have taken offensive action against unarmed civilians, experts said.

“If we hire people and direct them to perform activities that are direct participation in hostilities, then at least by the Guantanamo standard, that is a war crime,” Schmitt said.

Allow me to repeat: supporting the hostilities while not part of a nation’s military seems to be the standard we used to put people in Gitmo.

And then there’s this:

The 2004 immunity measure prevents Iraq from prosecuting private guards under Iraqi law. But some international law experts think Iraq could use international treaties to try contractors for killing civilians.

For now, such trials are considered unlikely, especially because the Iraqi government does not have the contractors in custody.

Of course, its not like the Iraqi government hasn’t tried to kick Blackwater out water, or like it hasn’t wanted to put Blackwater personnel on trial. But them’s the breaks when you’re the occupied, not the occupier.

A final note from the article:

Many of the current and former federal officials think the administration has an obligation under the Geneva Convention to clarify the contractors’ status. Some are perplexed that the Bush administration did not resolve these issues — or at least discuss them more thoroughly — before putting contractors on such a complex battlefield.

Who? Who is perplexed? There are a few obvious reasons why the Bush administration hasn’t made any effort to resolve these issues… incompetence, laziness, and most importantly, because they like things the way they are – these guys aren’t much for following rules.