The conviction in a Washington, D.C. court Wednesday of four former Blackwater Worldwide security guards for their roles in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead and 17 other wounded is a small, symbolic and perhaps significant act of justice in a much bigger and unresolved drama of death, destruction and impunity. The significance is that some Americans and British who invaded Iraq on false pretense and killed many innocent Iraqis have been held accountable by a jury of their peers in a court of law, and they may be punished with long jail sentences.
The larger drama that begs moral resolution is that punishing a few hired guards and gunmen while ignoring the responsibility of the political leadership of the United States and Great Britain that waged this criminal war in Iraq in the name of their entire nations is a gross abdication of responsibility — and itself a moral and political crime that makes a laughing stock of those American and British politicians who lecture us about the value and power of democracy.
The long quest for accountability for the mayhem and mass suffering that resulted from the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 is not only about redressing the misdeeds of the past, because the death and destruction that the American and British governments unleashed in early 2003 continue to spread mayhem all around the region — and perhaps even across the world, judging by concerns about militant Salafist-Takfiris returning to Western countries from waging war with ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
The jury in this case ruled that when the Blackwater guards started shooting in a busy intersection and killed 17 civilian Iraqis, they were not engaged in a battle of war, but rather in a criminal act. Ronald C. Machen Jr., the United States attorney in Washington, D.C., said after the trial that, “This verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war. Seven years ago, these Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers on innocent men, women and children. Today, they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families.”
Well, sort of. The real “devastating consequences” that need to be addressed by all Americans and British is their governments’ official decision to attack Iraq, wipe out its government and security services, and unleash a maelstrom of killings and conquests by various Iraqi and other groups that has left the country not only shattered — but also has left it as fertile ground for the birth, expansion and consolidation of ISIS and many other such Salafist-Takfiri criminals.
The bigger question that continues to plague us all is the symbolism of how the U.S. armed forces act with impunity anywhere in the world, to protect American interests — while the interests of anyone else, especially darker natives of the South, be damned. The ongoing drones attacks in several countries and the air attacks against ISIS in Syria-Iraq are just two examples of the problem of the use of American power that is both uncontrollable and unaccountable.
Attorneys for the defendants in the Blackwater security guards’ trial argued that their clients acted reasonably “at a time when the Iraqi capital was the scene of ‘horrific threats’ from car bombs, ambushes and follow-on attacks, sometimes aided by Iraqi security forces — infiltrated by guerrillas,” one press report noted.
Well, the truly “horrific threats” that faced all Iraqis — including the several million who fled the country as refugees — were mostly anchored in the consequences of the Anglo-American invasion and the American occupation that was managed by political amateurs like Paul Bremer. Violence by Iraqis was the sad and inevitable consequence of the chaotic conditions the clueless Americans created before they finally left that tortured land after a decade of playing with it like a toy they could never understand or master.
The verdict against the four Americans this week will be appealed and tested in court, and it may not hold. If it does hold, and the men are jailed for many years, a small dose of justice would have been achieved. It would also suggest that those who uphold the law in small doses can also do so on the bigger issues where criminal conduct is the work of their government, rather than individual hired gunmen. The verdict is a small, single example of the rule of law in action that does affirm one of the most impressive aspects of the American system of life and governance — the application of the rule of law. The dark side of this same matter is that such shining examples of justice in action are rarely applied to the foreign policies of the American government, whose consequences are so much more dangerous and devastating.
Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly in the Daily Star. He was founding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. On Twitter @ramikhouri.
Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global