Democratic Congressional leaders should demand, Republican leaders should support, and President Bush should accept the naming of a special prosecutor in the Blackwater case as a condition of confirming a new attorney general.

If the use of mercenary forces in Iraq on such an enormous scale is unprecedented in the history of the American military, and the sheer number of revelations and investigations of scandal regarding mercenary conduct grows daily, and the lack of any prosecutions in this matter raises the reddest of red flags, what is striking is the relationship between a billion- dollar contractor and the Republican Party.

Let's be clear: Blackwater, like all suspects, should receive the presumption of innocence. But let's also be clear: This whole matter stinks like a rotten egg, drenched in blood, as part of a catastrophically failed policy that more than any conflict in American history is conducted outside the rule of law.

We learn daily of new allegations of wrongdoing that go back several years, without even one prosecution, without even one conviction, and without even one case being thoroughly vetted through normal investigative procedures until recent hours.

Should anybody trust the Bush administration to investigate this honorably, given its record of misconduct — a record that only begins with what Gen. Antonio Taguba suggests is a continuing cover-up of the crimes of Abu Ghraib?

Looking at the history and current actions of Blackwater, its ownership and management, its related companies and interests of family members close to the company, what is revealed is a billion-dollar-level contractor surrounded by Republican campaign donations and a revolving door of Republican officials.

This is not only a mercenary company by the standards of what average Americans would call mercenary. This is not only a company under multiple investigations begun only recently after exposure of years of allegations. This is not only a mercenary company that at best has created enormous ill will and anger among the hearts and minds of the people of the nation we occupy.

This is a company that has created enormous ill will not only with the people of Iraq but among American commanders and active-duty troops.

This is a company with aggressive, long and financially deep relationships with one political party: the Republicans.

What is needed is a totally independent special prosecutor with integrity, professionalism and objectivity beyond any trace of political bias or partisanship. Let the truth come out, let the facts emerge, let justice be done, without any fear, favor or politics.

If Blackwater is innocent, let them be cleared; if Blackwater is guilty, let them be charged; but let the rule of law prevail without any culture of corruption impeding or obstructing a fair and honest investigation.

There are many Americans with extensive legal experience who would be universally seen as honest, fair and independent who could spearhead a full and total investigation.

It is time for truth, for honor, for justice. It is time for a special prosecutor. Now.