The Lord reward him according to his works. —The Second Epistle of St. Paul to Timothy
It is easy to take pot shots (as a drunken Blackwater USA employee would tell you) but occasionally they misfire (as a drunken Blackwater USA employee would tell you.) And on this occasion, a news report has misfired. On the surface, the suggestion was an appealing target for ridicule. Closer examination reveals it was an example of fiscal responsibility.
On Christmas Eve in 2006 an unidentified Blackwater employee in Iraq got drunk. According to the New York Times, a report compiled by the Democratic staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee described what then happened. Close to midnight, as Santa was completing whatever was left of his Christmas rounds, the unnamed drunk employee was confronted by bodyguards for Iraqi Vice President, Adil Abdul Mahdi. The drunk, without provocation other than that afforded by the libation, fired his pistol at the guards and hit one of them three times. The guard died shortly thereafter.
The drunk then fled to another private military contractor’s guard post and told the guards he had been in a firefight even though the guards had heard no sounds indicting a firefight had taken place. Shortly thereafter the police detained him but the report said he was too drunk to be questioned. Since this is not a story about the drunk all that needs to be said in conclusion is that Blackwater’s Christmas present to the drunk was to fire him and arrange for the state department to fly him to the United States on the day after Christmas where presumably he lived happily ever after.
According to the report in the Times, senior diplomats in Iraq said that Blackwater should apologize to the dead man’s family and pay the family some cash. For inspiration in writing the letter, Blackwater might have referred back to Col. John Nicholson’s spoken apology to the families of the 19 Afghan civilians who were accidentally killed in the spring. Col. Nicholson said: “This is a terrible, terrible mistake, and my nation grieves with you for your loss and suffering. We humbly and respectfully ask for your forgiveness.” Whether Blackwater was able to match Col. Nicholson’s eloquence is unknown. But since this is not a column about eloquence no more need be said about that. What this column is about is money.
According to the Times report, Margaret Scobey, the acting ambassador in Iraq, suggested in an e-mail message that the regional security officer who shot and killed Vice President Mahdi’s guard should follow up “to do all possible to assure that a sizable compensation is forthcoming.” She reportedly suggested the sum of $250,000. One of the things that concerned her was that if the apology was not heartfelt and the payment significant, Iraqis might tell Blackwater “that they are no longer able to work in Iraq.” Still, cooler heads filled with frugality prevailed and $250,000 was not paid. Of course, the subsequent killing of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater guards in September rendered that concern moot. It may get kicked out of Iraq notwithstanding the post-Christmas apology given for one dead Iraqi.
Recalling the compensation of $2000 paid for each Afghan killed in the incident for which Col. Nicholson apologized, someone, described by the Times as a “diplomatic security official”, realized what a dangerous precedent a $250,000 payment would be setting. That’s in addition to suggesting one dead Iraqi was worth 125 times what a dead Afghan was worth. Describing $250,000 as a “crazy sum” the security official made a perfectly sensible observation for which he has been unfairly ridiculed: If such a large payment were made it would encourage Iraqis to try to “get killed by our guys to financially guarantee their family’s future.” Such logic is almost certainly correct.
The livelihoods of hundreds of thousands if not, indeed, millions of Iraqis have been taken away thanks to the actions of the United States. If payments of $250,000 awaited all the families of security guards shot by drunken employees of Blackwater or other private security firms working in the war zone, of course children would plan and hope to be murdered in order to restore a measure of financial security to their families.
It is not clear that such an act would qualify as martyrdom and provide the victim with access in the afterworld to the virgins promised to suicide bombers by some Islamic sects. But an earthly reward of a $250,000, which probably even the most devout would agree is a more certain reward than the one promised in the hereafter, makes it a virtual certainty that the search for Blackwater employees to provoke in the hope of getting killed by them would never stop.
I hope the diplomatic security official has received a promotion for demonstrating such fiscal acumen in a time of crisis. He clearly deserves it.