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Blackwater Iraq killings highlight lack of legal recourse against US contractors: NYT

[JURIST] Private security contractors operating in Iraq work largely above the law due to legal loopholes, according to a Thursday New York Times report [text] on the aftermath of Sunday's shooting death of at least eight Iraqi civilians at the hands of private security contractor Blackwater USA [corporate website]. The Iraqi Interior Ministry withdrew Blackwater's operating license [AP report] in the wake of the killings and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on the US to replace the security firm [Bloomberg report] after its "criminal act." The US government exempted its employees and contractors from Iraqi law [order, PDF] when Iraq was still under US administration, an exemption that still applies even though Iraq has since formed its own government. This exemption has in the past denied Iraqis legal recourse against US-based contractors, and has been a source of tension between the US and Iraqi governments. In December, the US government returned a Blackwater employee accused [Virginian-Pilot report] of killing a bodyguard of Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi to the United States, where he was released without charge. Even if charges were brought domestically, it is not certain that US courts have jurisdiction.

Efforts to ensure legal accountability for contractors remain incomplete. An amendment to a Defense Department spending bill last year now means that military contractors in Iraq are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice [text]. The bill [text; see S. 552, Clarification of Application of Uniform Code of Military Justice During a Time of War] does not apply to State Department contractors; the Blackwater employee involved in Sunday's shooting was contracted by the US State Department. Critics argue that until such loopholes are closed, companies like Blackwater will continue to operate above the law. Salon.com has additional coverage.

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