War, law, jurisdiction, and juridical othering: private military security contractors and the Nisour Square massacre

War, law, jurisdiction, and juridical othering: private military security contractors and the Nisour Square massacre

  1. Katia Snukal

  1. Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto, 100 St George Street, Toronto M5S 1A1, Canada
  1. Emily Gilbert

  1. Canadian Studies Program and Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto, 15 King’s College Circle, Toronto M5S 3H7
  1. e-mail: katia.snukal@utoronto.ca; e-mail: emily.gilbert@utoronto.ca

Abstract

In September 2007 private contractors working for Blackwater, a private military contracting firm based in the US, killed seventeen people in Nisour Square in Iraq and severely injured more than twenty others. For over seven years the contractors evaded legal liability. This paper examines the way that legal jurisdiction played out in this evasion of accountability. We first examine the role of Order 17 in mandating that private contractors in Iraq “be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of their sending states”. We then turn to interrogate the ways that ‘juridical othering’, which operates through appeals to jurisdiction, has been employed by the state to distance itself from its own actions, in that the contractors were seen to be accountable neither to martial nor to domestic civilian law. Subsequently, we examine the impact of this juridical othering on the victims of the violence, as they too are ‘othered’ in the law. Through this analysis we demonstrate that the processes of juridical othering are the result not only of deliberate state action, but also of complex spatiolegal jurisdictions that are historically ingrained and are called into being in times of war in particular kinds of ways. In our conclusion, we point to the October 2014 ruling in the US federal courts that found three Blackwater employees guilty of manslaughter and one of murder, to show how law is continually unfolding and, as it does so, reinforces the intimate ways that law and war are co-constituted.

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