Bush: 'That's How I Work'

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, October 29, 2007; 1:40 PM

In the wake of last month's shooting of 17 civilians by Blackwater gunmen in Baghdad, the Bush administration is finally acknowledging -- more than four years late -- that private security contractors in Iraq should operate under the law.

Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted to Congress that the State Department had inadequately supervised those contractors. As Karen DeYoung wrote in Friday's Washington Post, "Pressed to express regret for what Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) called "the failures of your department, your failures," Rice said, "I certainly regret that we did not have the kind of oversight that I would have insisted upon."

Rice agreed that "there is a hole" in U.S. law that has prevented prosecution of contractors.

But did we really need an apparent massacre to point out this giant loophole and its perils?

As it happens, President Bush has been aware of the hole for some time -- and deserves some of the blame for not fixing it earlier. Confronted about it in public more than a year ago, Bush literally laughed off the question -- and then, tellingly, described his response as a case study in how he does his job.

The setting was a question-and-answer session after Bush spoke at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in April of 2006. (Here's a video clip.)

One student, a first-year in South Asia studies, told the president: "My question is in regards to private military contractors. Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to these contractors in Iraq. I asked your Secretary of Defense a couple months ago what law governs their actions.

Bush: "I was going to ask him. Go ahead. (Laughter.) Help. (Laughter.)"

Student: "I was hoping your answer might be a little more specific. (Laughter.) Mr. Rumsfeld answered that Iraq has its own domestic laws which he assumed applied to those private military contractors. However, Iraq is clearly not currently capable of enforcing its laws, much less against -- over our American military contractors. I would submit to you that in this case, this is one case that privatization is not a solution. And, Mr. President, how do you propose to bring private military contractors under a system of law?"

Bush: "I appreciate that very much. I wasn't kidding -- (laughter.) I was going to -- I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I've got an interesting question. (Laughter.) This is what delegation -- I don't mean to be dodging the question, although it's kind of convenient in this case, but never -- (laughter.) I really will -- I'm going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That's how I work. I'm -- thanks. (Laughter.)"

Iraq Watch

Joshua Partlow writes in The Washington Post about his conversations with soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, who will soon wrap up 15 months patrolling a war-torn neighborhood in southwestern Baghdad.

"Their experience in Sadiyah has left many of them deeply discouraged, by both the unabated hatred between rival sectarian fighters and the questionable will of the Iraqi government to work toward peaceful solutions," Partlow writes.


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