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US Papers Sat: Sec. Contractors Face US Charges
Iraqis in the U.S military prison system, Troop pullout leaves only Brits and Am
By DANIEL W. SMITH 12/06/2008 02:00 AM ET
More trouble for Blackwater, as at least five of its guards face indictment by the Justice Department. Also, the U.S. military penal system, an oil conference, and the smaller members of the Coalition pack their bags.

Contractors
The New York Times’ Ginger Thompson and James Risen report from Washington that the Justice Department has obtained indictments against five guards for the security company Blackwater Worldwide for their involvement in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that killed at least 17 Iraqi civilians and remains a thorn in Iraqi relations with the United States.

For now, the indictments are sealed, but could be made public as early as Monday. Spokespersons for both the Justice Department and Blackwater declined to comment on the five indictments, or of a sixth guard who is said to be negotiation a plea.
The six guards have been under investigation since the shootings occurred Sept. 16, 2007, as their convoy traveled through a traffic circle in Nisour Square that was filled with cars, pedestrians and police officers. The guards have told investigators that they fired after coming under attack. Blackwater has maintained that its guards did nothing wrong, and the company itself is not being charged in the case. Investigations by the Pentagon, the F.B.I. and the Iraqi government found no evidence to support the guards’ version of events.

Among those named in the indictment, according to the people briefed on the case, are Paul Slough, a 28-year-old who served in the Army Infantry and the Texas National Guard before joining Blackwater in 2006, and Dustin Heard of Tennessee, a former marine who joined Blackwater in 2004.

...The Nisour Square shootings have had a profound impact in Iraq, both on the role of contractors in the war zone and on the Baghdad government’s relationship with the Bush administration. The episode was the bloodiest in a series of violent events involving Blackwater and other American security contractors that had stoked anger and resentment among Iraqis.

...Blackwater had developed a reputation among Iraqis and American military personnel for flaunting an aggressive, quick-draw image and for security personnel who took excessively violent actions to protect the people they were paid to guard.

...the Nisour Square episode prompted so much protest that Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, demanded that the Bush administration pull Blackwater out of the country.
“I engaged the individuals,” Mr. Slough told investigators, “and stopped the threat.”
The F.B.I. concluded that at least 14 of the 17 fatal shootings in Nisour Square were unjustified, saying that Blackwater guards recklessly violated American rules for the use of lethal force. Military investigators went further, saying that all of the deaths were unjustified and potentially criminal. Iraqi authorities characterized the incident as “deliberate murder.”
From Iraq
Also in the New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin writes from Baghdad that a majority of the foreign troops that have been part of the multinational coalition in Iraq will depart in the next few weeks or have already done so, because they will no longer have the authority to operate in Iraq when the United Nations resolution authorizing their presence expires Dec. 31.
The Tongans ended their deployment on Friday, the Azerbaijanis a few days ago, the Poles last month and the Macedonians and Bosnians in the past few weeks. South Korean and Georgian troops have also left, the latter somewhat earlier than planned when fighting broke out in their country in August. In many cases these contingents have included fewer than 200 soldiers, although some, like the troops from Poland, were as large as 900.

That will leave in Iraq only British soldiers and a very small number from two or three other countries, along with the American military. Because the British will remain after the end of the year, the Iraqi and British governments are negotiating a security agreement.
“The two sides started negotiations a month ago to reach an understanding between the two sides on the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq,” Labid Abawi, said the Iraqi under secretary of foreign affairs.
In contrast to the charged debate over approving the security agreement with the United States, lawmakers appeared to think that if a similar agreement was reached with Britain, it would readily win approval in Parliament. Because of the small number of British soldiers that will remain in the country, a formal agreement might not even be necessary.
“There won’t be more than 500 British soldiers in Iraq after Jan. 1, 2009,” said Abbas al-Bayati, a member of Parliament’s security committee. “With such low numbers, we won’t need more than a temporary protocol between the British and Iraqi Ministries of Defense to authorize their presence.”

Amit R. Paley of the Washington Post reports from Camp Bucca, Iraq on the situation for Iraqi prisoners in U.S. prisons in Iraq, as powers and responsibility shift in Iraq.

...the recently approved U.S.-Iraqi security agreement will soon require the American military to release the 16,000 Iraqi detainees -- the vast majority of them held in this southern desert prison -- or refer them to the nation's courts. As the U.S. military detention system here begins to come under Iraqi control, a complicated joint effort is underway to determine which of the men are safe to release and which may be insurgents.
"Most of the people they detain are innocent," said Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.

One inmate’s plight is used as an example of the system not in place.
On a scorching morning earlier this year, Talib Mohammed Farkhan, who had been imprisoned for 15 months, shuffled into Hearing Room 3 to hear his U.S. captors explain the allegations against him for the first time.

Farkhan, a Shiite Muslim, appeared to follow along as the American officers said he had been detained for membership in the Mahdi Army, the anti-American Shiite militia. But he looked totally baffled when they also accused him of working with al-Qaeda in Iraq, the extremist Sunni Muslim group that kills Americans and Shiites.

"I don't understand how that could be possible," said a visibly flustered Farkhan, a welder from the southern city of Iskandariyah, who denied all the accusations. "They are Sunni. I am Shia."

Yet the three U.S. servicemen before him, a panel of non-lawyers convened as part of a new quasi-judicial process to review each detainee's case every six months, did not need to decide whether Farkhan had violated the law. Their task was to decide whether he posed an "imperative security threat" to the U.S.-led coalition or the Iraqi people. And they concluded that credible evidence, which they would not describe to Farkhan or a Washington Post correspondent allowed to view the 19-minute hearing, suggested that he probably did.

"I'm not looking at whether they are guilty or innocent," said Air Force Maj. Jeff Ghiglieri, the president of the review board that convened in May. "We're trying to determine as best we can whether they will do bad things if we release them." Minutes later, the panel unanimously voted to detain Farkhan for another six months.

This proceeding is what has amounted to due process for many of the 100,000 prisoners who have passed through the American-run detention system in Iraq. Although the legal controversy over detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has attracted far more attention, 100 times as many prisoners have been held at Camp Bucca and other Iraqi sites with far fewer legal rights and no oversight by the American court system. The Iraqis are not charged with crimes, permitted to see the evidence against them or provided lawyers.
From Baghdad, the Wall Street Journal’s Gina Chon writes that a handful of international oil majors braved still-dicey security conditions here to attend the country's first significant petroleum conference, with several executives expressing hope they would soon be setting up shop here. Of course, they didn’t have to leave the Baghdad International Airport compound.
The well-attended conference, along with the promise of a permanent presence by some of the best-known names in the industry, is a boost of confidence for the Iraqi oil industry, beset with challenges. Its producing fields need maintenance and investment at a time when the security situation across the country, while improving, is still essentially a war zone by the standards of most international companies.

Plunging oil prices have presented Iraq oil officials with another big challenge: Falling revenue is likely to translate into more competition for government funds, which oil officials desperately need for their own oil-field investment plans.

Still, the conference here was buzzing with prospective oil-industry executives. Representatives of Japan's Nippon Oil Exploration Ltd., Lukoil Overseas Holding Ltd., an affiliate of the big Russian producer, and the oil subsidiary of Danish conglomerate A.P. Moller-Maersk Group all said they will now consider establishing footholds in Iraq. Also attending the session were executives from U.S. majors ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil Corp., along with big state-owned giants like Indonesia's Pertamina.

Faisal al-Thani, head of business development at Maersk Oil's Qatar office, said he was surprised by the large crowd at the oil conference. "We are all eager to get our foot in the door and establish a presence here," Mr. Thani said.
Opinion
The Wall Street Journal’s “review and Outlook page has a piece entitled “Justice in Iraq”. It says that, though progress in Iraq is often measured in declining rates of terrorist violence, the number of provinces under Iraqi control, growing Iraqi troop strength, and the security agreement, a pair of recent Iraqi court decisions also tells us something about the moral distance the country has traveled since the days of Saddam Hussein.

The article mentions the death sentence handed out to “Chemical Ali” Majeed this week, and also points out Mithal al-Alusi as a barometer of Iraqi progress, as did Times’ columnist Thomas L. Friedman recently.
Now take the case of Mithal al-Alusi, an Iraqi legislator who visited Israel in 2004 and paid for it when his two sons were murdered the following year. Undeterred, Mr. Alusi returned to Israel in September, only to be sanctioned by parliament on the grounds that he had violated Saddam-era statutes forbidding travel to the Jewish state. Fortunately, Iraq's constitutional court disagreed, noting that Saddam-era laws don't apply in the new Iraq. Mr. Alusi will now be returning to his parliamentary duties.

It's a shame that Iraq's young democracy isn't prepared to recognize Israel, as Egypt and Jordan have. Then again, any state which sentences a man like Mr. Majeed to die while defending the rights of Mr. Alusi has put itself on the right side of history, and deserves our continuing support.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no Saturday Editions.

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