October 14, 2007

(Nicole: Scarce sent in video of Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince speaking with Matt Lauer this morning on the Today show.)

In light of the growing scandal surrounding Blackwater private security forces in Iraq, and efforts on the part of the Maliki government to expel the contractors from the country, Bush administration attorneys are apparently contemplating an awkward legal question: are Blackwater guards who’ve killed Iraqi civilians our own “unlawful combatants”?

As a rule, it’s a label given to terrorists caught in war zones without uniforms. It may be provocative, but there are U.S. officials who believe the name may apply to Blackwater. (thanks to reader DOK for the tip)

The issues surrounding the private security contractors are being examined by lawyers at the departments of State, Defense and Justice. Disagreements about the contractors’ status exist between agencies and within the Pentagon itself.

“I think it is an unresolved issue that needs to be addressed,” said a senior Defense Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject. “But if that is in fact the case, what the heck are we doing?”

Michael Schmitt, a professor of international law at the Naval War College and a former Air Force lawyer, told the LAT that killing civilians violates the law of war. “It is a war crime to kill civilians unlawfully in an armed conflict,” he said.

When dealing with foreign detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the Bush White House has taken an expansive definition of “unlawful combatants,” pushing the label to its logical extreme (and then some). Something tells me the White House will prefer a much narrower definition in this context.

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