A corporate military monster is being
created in Iraq.
The U.S. government is relying
on private military contractors like never before.
Approximately 15,000 military
contractors, maybe more, are now working in Iraq. The four Americans
brutally killed and mutilated in Fallujah March 31 were part
of this informal army of occupation.
Contractors are complicating
traditional norms of military command and control, and challenging
the basic norms of accountability that are supposed to govern
the government’s use of violence. Human rights abuses go unpunished.
Reliance on poorly monitored contractors is bleeding the public
treasury. The contractors are simultaneously creating opportunities
for the government to evade public accountability, and, in Iraq
at least, are on the verge of evolving into an independent force
at least somewhat beyond the control of the U.S. military. And,
as the contractors grow in numbers and political influence, their
power to entrench themselves and block reform is growing.
Whatever the limitations of
the military code of justice and its in-practice application,
the code does not apply to the modern-day mercenaries. Indeed,
the mechanisms by which the contractors are held responsible
for their behavior, and disciplined for mistreating civilians
or committing human rights abuses — all too easy for men with
guns in a hostile environment — are fuzzy.
It is unclear exactly what
law applies to the contractors, explains Peter W. Singer, author
of Corporate Warriors (Cornell University Press, 2003) and a
leading authority on private military contracting. They do not
fall under international law on mercenaries, which is defined
narrowly. Nor does the national law of the United States clearly
apply to the contractors in Iraq — especially because many of
the contractors are not Americans.
Relatedly, many firms do not
properly screen those they hire to patrol the streets in foreign
nations. “Lives, soldiers’ and civilians’ welfare, human
rights, are all at stake,” says Singer. “But we have
left it up to very raw market forces to figure out who can work
for these firms, and who they can work for.”
There are already more than
a few examples of what can happen, notable among them accusations
that Dyncorp employees were involved in sex trafficking of young
girls in Bosnia.
In general, the performance
of the private military firms is horribly under-monitored.
Sometimes the lack of monitoring
is a boon to the government agencies that hire the contractors.
Although there are firm limits on the kinds of operations that
U.S. troops can conduct in Colombia, Singer notes, “it has
been pretty loosey-goosey on the private contractor side.”
The contractors are working with the Colombian military to defeat
the guerilla insurgency in Colombia — unconstrained by Congressionally
imposed limits on what U.S. soldiers in Colombia may do.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, a problem
of a whole different sort is starting to emerge.
The security contractors are
already involved in full-fledged battlefield operations, increasingly
so as the insurgency in Iraq escalates.
A few days after the Americans
were killed in Fallujah, Blackwater Security Consulting engaged
in full-scale battle in Najaf, with the company flying its own
helicopters amidst an intense firefight to resupply its own commandos.
Now, reports the Washington
Post, the security firms are networking formally, “organizing
what may effectively be the largest private army in the world,
with its own rescue teams and pooled, sensitive intelligence.”
Because many of the security
contractors work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, as
opposed to the U.S. military, they are not integrated into the
military’s operations. “Under assault by insurgents and
unable to rely on U.S. and coalition troops for intelligence
or help under duress,” according to the Post, the contractors
are banding together.
Private occupying commandos?
Corporate military helicopters in a battlefield situation? An
integrated occupation private intelligence network?
Isn’t this just obviously a
Given the problems that have
already occurred in places like Colombia and Bosnia, the scale
and now independent integrated nature of the private military
operations in Iraq is asking for disaster, beyond that already
inflicted on the Iraqis.
Making the problem still worse
is that the monster feeds on itself.
The larger become the military
contractors, the more influence they have in Congress and the
Pentagon, the more they are able to shape policy, immunize themselves
from proper oversight, and expand their reach. The private military
firms are led by ex-generals, the most effective possible lobbyists
of their former colleagues — and frequently former subordinates
— at the Pentagon. As they grow in size, and become integrated
into the military-industrial complex (Northrop Grumman has swallowed
a number of the military contractors, for example), their political
leverage in Congress and among civilians in the executive branch
Over the last decade or so,
the phenomenon of private military contracting has grown unchecked.
We’re now at a precipice, with action to constrain the contractors
about to become far, far more difficult than if the madness of
employing mercenaries had been averted in the first place.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Monitor, and co-director of Essential Action, a corporate
accountability group. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators:
The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe,
Maine: Common Courage Press; http://www.corporatepredators.org).
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert