An immune system

November 01, 2007

The dumb promises of immunity must have been the last straw. The State Department capped its astonishing record of mismanagement of private security firms in Iraq in a fairly spectacular way, by making an offer of immunity it didn't have the power to grant, to the Blackwater USA guards who were involved in the notorious shoot-'em-up in Baghdad's Nisour Square.

Condoleezza Rice has now given way to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who wants to put diplomats' private guards under military control. This will make the people at State seethe, because their comings and goings in Iraq will be at the sufferance of their Pentagon rivals. But they've made such a botch of it that there seems no real alternative - for now.

What was most alarming about this immunity business is that it comes from the very people - the Diplomatic Security Service - supposedly overseeing Blackwater. Immunity from prosecution is supposed to make people open up, but this looks suspiciously like immunity granted with the idea of avoiding a trial. It accomplishes just the opposite of its intended purpose, in other words, if it ends up keeping testimony (about the State Department as well as about Blackwater) off the public record.

This week, the Iraqi parliament voted to rescind an order, issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority, that exempts private contractors from Iraqi law. It's about time - and it's encouraging to see the rule of law on the advance somewhere, after it has taken such a battering from the administration in Washington.

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