This may be nothing new - just new to me - but I was surprised to hear Odierno react with such strong language to the news that the case against those (allegedly) involved in the Blackwater massacre was thrown out. On NPR he said that innocent people had been killed and that he feared the ruling would inspire a backlash against the troops and contractors.
I missed the show, but I thought along similar lines when I read the story this morning in the New York Times. There are a number of contradictions that rise to the surface with this ruling.
First, imagine that these Blackwater guards were terrorist suspects who were brought to trial for allegedly massacring 17 innocent people and were released on what right wingers call a "technicality." How do you think they would be reacting to such a thing? And conversely, would we see some on the left reacting with outrage to the ruling because clearly guilty people were going free due to prosecutorial misconduct?
I also wondered about what Odierno speaks of. If it was unconscionable to release pictures of abuse because it would outrage the Muslim world, what would this do? And at what point do you have to say that worrying about such things when one is following our constitution and the rule of law (as opposed to illegally invading a foreign country)is something that we have to live with?
To me, this is fairly easy even though I think that these Blackwater contractors were likely guilty. If the Bush Justice department broke the law in the course of their prosecution (probably on purpose, mind you) then the judge had no choice but to dismiss these charges. It's the way our system works. But the case brings up an interesting problem: what if the government doesn't really want to prosecute some criminals because they've employed them to commit the crime? After all, we've now seen two high profile Republican criminals have their charges dropped because of prosecutorial "misconduct" by the Bush Justice Department. (Ted Stevens is the other one.)It's a problem, isn't it?
This is why you count on having an independent DOJ, which we certainly didn't have during the Bush years. And unfortunately, many of the same people are still in place. And since we can't look in the rearview mirror, you have to doubt that anything will be done about this Blackwater "error" either.
So there are a lot of interesting threads to this story. But perhaps those comments by Odierno are the most important. We have shown that we are willing to lock terrorist suspects up for years with no due process. We have later admitted that many of them weren't really guilty of anything. But here we have a case where it's pretty obvious that these men murdered innocent people in broad daylight and they were set free because our laws require that the government follow certain legal procedures. Calling it a double standard doesn't even come close to explaining to the Iraqis how this can happen. All they see is injustice.
Sadly, with the way our government works these days the response to Odierno's concerns will be that we just won't ever bring charges against any contractors again lest this same thing happen. And injustice becomes institutionalized. Again.