A few days ago the New York Times ran an article, “Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater,” describing how mercenaries the U.S. hired were threatening to kill Americans after already killing Iraqis:
weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.
“The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” he said, adding that the “hands off” management resulted in a situation in which “the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control.”
When I think of Americans, war, and mercenaries, my first thoughts are of Washington crossing the Delaware in 1776 to fight mercenaries the British hired. Now the U.S. has an occupying army with mercenaries. How much more does the United States of today resemble the British we rebelled against than the revolutionaries?
I consider Independence Day a celebration of the ideals of freedom this country won from the British, not just of the country itself. Sometimes that means questioning the country and its practices.
Obviously there are major differences between the United States in Iraq today and the British in America in 1776. There are obvious similarities too. When I read the article, I couldn’t help ask myself if the differences are trees and the similarities are the forest.
The Boston Massacre, known as the Incident on King Street by the British, was an incident on March 5, 1770, in which British Army soldiers killed five male civilians and injured six others. British troops had been stationed in Boston, capital of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, since 1768 in order to protect and support crown-appointed colonial officials attempting to enforce unpopular Parliamentary legislation. Amid ongoing tense relations between the population and the soldiers, a mob formed around a British sentry, who was subjected to verbal abuse and harassment. He was eventually supported by eight additional soldiers, who were subjected to verbal threats and thrown objects. They fired into the crowd, without orders, instantly killing three people and wounding others. Two more people died later of wounds sustained in the incident.
The crowd eventually dispersed after Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson promised an inquiry, but reformed the next day, prompting the withdrawal of the troops to Castle Island. Eight soldiers, one officer, and four civilians were arrested and charged with murder. Defended by the lawyer and future American President, John Adams, six of the soldiers were acquitted, while the other two were convicted of manslaughter and given reduced sentences. The men found guilty of manslaughter were sentenced to branding on their hand. Depictions, reports, and propaganda about the event, notably the colored engraving produced by Paul Revere, further heightened tensions throughout the Thirteen Colonies.
And Nisour Square:
On September 16, 2007, Blackwater Security Consulting (since renamed Academi) military contractors shot at Iraqi civilians killing 17 and injuring 20 in Nisour Square, Baghdad. The killings outraged Iraqis and strained relations between Iraq and Washington.
Blackwater guards claimed that the convoy was ambushed and that they fired at the attackers in defense of the convoy. The Iraqi government and Iraqi police investigator Faris Saadi Abdul alleged that the killings were unprovoked. The next day, Blackwater Worldwide’s license to operate in Iraq was temporarily revoked. The US State Department has said that “innocent life was lost” and according to the Washington Post, a military report appeared to corroborate “the Iraqi government’s contention that Blackwater was at fault.” The Iraqi government vowed to punish Blackwater. The incident sparked at least five investigations, including one from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI investigation found that, of the 17 Iraqis killed by the guards, at least 14 were shot without cause.
In September 2008, the U.S. charged five Blackwater guards with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and a weapons violation but on December 31, 2009, a U.S. district judge dismissed all charges on the grounds that the case against the Blackwater guards had been improperly built on testimony given in exchange for immunity. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki harshly criticized the dismissal. In April 2011 a US federal appeals court reinstated the manslaughter charges against Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Donald Ball after closed-door testimony. The court said “We find that the district court’s findings depend on an erroneous view of the law,” A fifth guard had his charges dismissed and Jeremy Ridgeway a sixth guard pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter. The proceedings against the four guards are ongoing. On January 6, 2012 Blackwater settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of six of the victims, for an undisclosed sum.
You might say we aren’t harming the people of the country we are occupying as much as the British harmed the colonialists or that there’s a lot more to us than occupying another country, but you could say the same of the British then.
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