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US soldiers: Blackwater attacked fleeing Iraqi civilians

American troops investigating the deadly Sept. 16 incident in Baghdad found no evidence that security contractors were fired upon.

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The Independent (London) adds that Ivana Vuco, the most senior UN human rights officer in Iraq, said that Blackwater and other firms operating in Iraq may have broken international human rights laws, and that they could face prosecution.

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"For us, it's a human rights issue," she said. "We will monitor the allegations of killings by security contractors and look into whether or not crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed." ... Ms Vuco said human rights laws applied equally to contractors and other parties in a conflict. "We will be stressing that in our communications with US authorities. This includes the responsibility to investigate, supervise and prosecute those accused of wrongdoing," she said at the launch in Baghdad of the latest UN human rights report, covering the period from April to June. It described the human rights situation in Iraq as "very grim".

In a news analysis, The New York Times writes that the main problem is determining under what laws security companies should be held accountable. One option is to remove the contractors' immunity from Iraqi law, but experts suggest that the US would be hesitant to submit contractors to Iraqi courts, which lack many of the legal protections of their American counterparts. And while America's military law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, was expanded in 2006 to apply to military contractors, there are ongoing debates as to how the expanded law should be implemented.

In the meantime, acting for the injured Iraqi and three families of Blackwater shooting victims, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York has filed a lawsuit in federal district court for the District of Columbia, reports The Washington Times. CCR had defended Abu Ghraib inmates since 2004. Susan L. Burke, the attorney responsible for the Blackwater case, says that the Iraqi families contacted two of her employees working in Iraq and "asked for help." The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from Blackwater and its CEO and founder, Erik Prince.

Iraqi families filed a wrongful-death lawsuit yesterday against the private security firm Blackwater, claiming that the security company and its affiliates violated U.S. law in committing "extrajudicial killings and war crimes" in last month's shootout in Baghdad's Nisour Square.
Blackwater Chairman and CEO Erik Prince also is named in the suit, which represents the first time Iraqis have taken U.S. legal action against a company working under contract from the U.S. government.

In order to deal with similar concerns about unregulated security firms in Afghanistan, the Afghan government has begun cracking down on private contractors, reports the Associated Press. Two private Afghan contractors were raided and shut down this week, and over a dozen more face forced closures soon, according to Afghan police and Western officials.

The government is proposing new rules to tighten control over such firms, including some Western companies, amid concerns they intimidate Afghans, show disrespect to local security forces and don't cooperate with authorities, according to a draft policy document obtained by the AP. The draft rules, which are under discussion by President Hamid Karzai's government, say the main problem is the absence of "checks and balances" over the work of private security companies. That lack "has generated an unfortunate and nearly anarchical PSC market with a long series of security problems and criminal activities," the draft says. It also warns that operating as a security company can provide cover for a "wide range of militia and criminal groups."

The Afghan Interior Ministry says there are 59 Afghan and foreign security contractors operating in the country, though a Western official says there could be as many as 25 more unregistered firms. The AP writes that many foreign embassies rely on contractors for security, as they feel Afghan forces lack the skill and trustworthiness required for the job.