There’s not much I can add at this point to Mark Mazzetti’s great scoop about the CIA hiring the-private-military-firm-formerly-known-as-Blackwater for its never-quite-specified “significant actions” efforts at assassinating members of al-Qaeda. Jeremy Scahill has tweeted that The Nation is set to publish a follow-on piece, so I’d keep an eye out for that. But here’s my big question.
We already established during the Nisour Square shootings in Iraq in 2007 that Blackwater, like other private security companies, falls under nebulous legal authority. Are they under U.S. law? Iraqi (or other host-country) law? The Uniformed Code of Military Justice? The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act? There are cases to be made for any or all of these laws to apply to private military companies, and yet Congress hasn’t clarified the answer. Now, similarly, the CIA doesn’t claim to be bound by host-country law when it operates outside the United States, but it still claims to be under U.S. law. Well, if you were to design a program that gets into the legally dubious territory of assassinations, wouldn’t it make sense to contract that work out to an industry that *already *has a murky relationship with the law in the event that something should go wrong?
I don’t want to hang too much on the 1981 assassinations ban known as Executive Order 12333. Marcy Wheeler has pointed out that there are credible indications that the Bush administration didn’t consider itself bound by it. And it still says that its prohibitions apply to “person[s] employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government,” not just government employees, so on the face of it, the ban seems to also apply to contractors. But if there was a question about the legality of the operations, hiring contractors is a sensible way to dodge it.
An alternative explanation is that CIA didn’t have sufficient people trained in assassinations. But that would suggest that Blackwater already had goon squads or goon-squad-capable employees itself.
What may be lost through all this is that the renamed Blackwater company is still going to bid on a State Department contract to protect U.S. diplomats. Will this new revelation have any impact on State entertaining the bid? I’ve asked the State Department and am awaiting a reply.
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