The State Department said Tuesday that it had granted “limited protections” to Blackwater Worldwide security guards involved in a September shootout that killed 17 civilians in Iraq. The news sparked a flurry of fresh criticism from Democrats in Congress, along with letters from committee chairmen demanding more information from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The administration also said that from now on all private security contractors protecting U.S. diplomatic convoys will be put under military control.
What the commentators said
Offering Blackwater contractors immunity is “nothing short of scandalous,” said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial (free registration). The arm of the State Department that promised the immunity—the Bureau of Diplomatic Security—has close ties to Blackwater, and that conflict of interest is unacceptable. If this prevents the U.S. from conducting a “proper investigation or prosecution of contractors it licensed to kill, America's vaunted justice will ring shamefully hollow.”
“Harping” on the “alleged misdeeds” of Blackwater guards isn’t about justice, said the PowerLine blog. It’s about giving the antiwar crowd a way to change the subject. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker “routed” war opponents in September with their report of real progress, so the media and Congress have shifted their focus to Blackwater and corruption in the Iraqi government to obscure the fact that the war has taken “a significant turn for the better.”
Don’t underestimate the damage the Blackwater case has done to “America’s credibility,” said The Miami Herald in an editorial (free registration). Nothing the Blackwater guards said in their first interviews after the killings can be used to prosecute them, and that will make it hard to make sure that anyone who committed a crime will be brought to justice. “After the Bush administration's many well-publicized mistakes in the war, including the disbanding of the Iraq army and the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, it is stunning that the high-profile killings of innocent Iraqis have not been handled with greater care.”