This is one of those stories where we have to decide whether "W" is a clueless idiot or an evil, vicious bastard. Nothing else can be the case, but it's hard to say which characterization is the true one. Apparently, Bush has no idea as to what the legal status of the many mercenaries/contractors is. This was a question that came up during the turnover of "authority" from Paul Bremer to Iyad Allawi. Obviously, if the question was ever answered, Bush either didn't get the memo or is trying to cynically hide the truth from US citizens.
I sincerely hope that Bush knows the answer and is trying to hide the answer behind a screen of apparent befuddlement. The idea that he truly may not know is an answer too horrifying to contemplate.
As to what the legal status of US mercenaries means, let's imagine that we're a group of Iraqi civilians and we've just witnessed an American soldier commit an atrocity. Say, an American soldier shoots an unarmed Iraqi soldier while the Iraqi soldier is in US custody. When a soldier commits an atrocity, the rank insignia on his or her sleeve and the soldier's nametag tells any witnesses who it was that committed the act. With mercenaries, is there any standard uniform? Is there anyone who will enforce such standards? Who does one complain to if a mercenary is seen abusing or shooting an unarmed Iraqi? To the private company half a world away in the US that employs the mercenary? To the local military commander, who may or may not even know about the nearby mercenary units? To the US President, who is apparently unaware of what their status is in the first place?
Yeah, they could always complain to the government of Ibriham Jaafari, but that presumes that his writ extends beyond the Green Zone. What if an atrocity occurs miles away from Baghdad? What do the Iraqi witnesses do then? The CBS News correspondent Lara Logan reported "If you had any idea of the number of Iraqis that come to us with stories of abuses of U.S. soldiers and you look at our coverage over the last -- my coverage over the last few weeks, or even over the last three years, there's been maybe two or three stories that have related to that." So, apparently, Iraqi civilians report problems with American soldiers to TV news reporters because they're the ones they can identify as being able to do something about the soldiers.
But clearly, not many such reports ever make it onto the air. There could be perfectly legitimate reasons why. Reporters are not equipped to go out and investigate and to confirm that these reports are accurate. They don't have subpoena power, they can't insist that soldiers talk.
Mercenaries are of course even less accountable than that.
And Bush doesn't know their legal status?