October 08, 2007

Private Military Corporations: Well Oiled Machine or Rogue Organization?

Mercenary groups have been a part of war zones for over two thousand years, dating back to 664 BCE in ancient Greece. Over the centuries, mercenary groups have become offshoots of corporations that produce military hardware. However, since 2005, the American government has begun to rely on private military corporations (PMCs) to fill in the logistical gaps left by the United States Armed Forces. For example, an American led, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) mission to Afghanistan (2001) hired a Ukrainian mercenary group to airlift them to the site. This was due in part because Afghanistan is considered outside NATO’s theater of action and did not have the resources to transport troops to that location. While these groups are able to handle military shortcomings, there are major normative and legal complications that may arise. International law is unclear on how to properly prosecute a war criminal who is not a part of a recognized, uniformed, standing army; these individuals are considered civilians for all intents and purposes. Although, illegal combatants are often held at Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba, why are the held at a different standard? I believe that while these mercenary groups are without a normative mandate, they can be of great use to the United States if properly regulated and scrutinized.

Blackwater was founded in 1997 by former United States Navy Seal, Erik Prince (seen above). Before 2001, their contracts with the United States government were valued at less than one million dollars; since 2001, however, they have now exceeded one billion dollars. Why the increase? Iraq has been a very difficult war to fight, given the unconventional tactics that are used, such as suicide bombing; therefore Marines have been deployed to pacify the countryside, leaving diplomats and senior civilians unprotected. The federal government has sought to remedy the situation by contracting Blackwater USA to perform said functions instead. Just this year, Blackwater has 1,800 convoy missions. While this has alleviated some logistical pressure for the armed forces, Blackwater has been involved in numerous fire fights, of which, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and Department Spokesman Sean McCormack has not divulged any data, stating that: “…only a very small fraction, very small fraction, that have involved any sort of use of force”. The most recent occurred last month in al-Nissor square in Baghdad. While protecting a convoy, Blackwater employees were involved in the shooting of eleven Iraqi civilians. Mr. Prince insists that the convoy guards were merely defending themselves. Iraqis have demanded a full inquiry into the incident.

The question is: who has jurisdiction over this incident, if it is indeed a war crime? Former United States Ambassador, Paul Bremer, revised the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) order 17 to provide immunity to foreign contractors from prosecution under Iraqi law; therefore rendering Iraqi domestic jurisdiction inapplicable. When considering United States jurisdiction; there are two options, the War Crimes Act of 1996 and the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA). The War Crimes Act applies to criminal offenses committed by US military personnel and US nationals, specifically grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. No one has been convicted under this act to date. MEJA on the other hand, allows for the prosecution of persons “employed by or accompanying the armed forces”. This however, does not apply to non Department of Defense contracts such as those given to Blackwater (as seen right) by the State Department.

In response to these legal shortcomings, Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice has ordered tighter controls of contractors and the House of Representatives has passed bill H.R. 3695 to freeze the number of private contractors in Iraq and bill S.G.674.IS to ensure transparency and accountability in military and security contracting. While these are seen as steps in the right direction, time will be the ultimate test of their effectiveness. PMC forces are employed by former service members therefore, there is a level of tactical experience that may put them at an advantage. In addition to this, PMC strategy involves small number of forces directed at specific goals or targets, in contrast to the tactics of the United States armed forces which emphasize strength of force through sheer numbers. However what the Unites States military lacks in small, well armed, veteran tactical teams, it makes up for in policing. Organizations such as Blackwater have no obligations to the Geneva convention and are not held accountable on threat of Court Martial. With bill S.G674.IS, transparency should ensure against human rights violations, making these organizations more trustworthy and beholding to a higher court. In summary, I believe that these groups can be an effective tool in modern warfare and with these new bills passed they will ensure that checks and balances are put into place to create a precedence in the international arena. In doing so, non-military/illegal combatants may someday be held to an international law and therefore discourage gross human rights violations.

1 comment:

SDR said...

I would like to begin by praising you for a well structured argument and overall blog. The graphics were excellent choices considering the content which they were supplementing. I am sure that the photo of Erik Prince, looking like a wall street investor rather than a navy seal had a relationship with the rise in contracts from on million to one billion.
The argument you present is enriched by your overall ability to take an objective viewpoint with regards to your conclusion. It is certainly a timely issue and one which requires a deep objective analysis before absolutes are reached, which again you have done well.
With regards to your second graphic, I would like to suggest that perhaps a photo of Blackwater troops shown guarding the U.S. State Department officials would perhaps have giving a stronger sense to the reader of the important role they serve within Iraq.
Also, in perhaps you could have found an article to link to the recent 11 "civilians" who were shot by Blackwater employees would have been helping for me to determine my own thoughts on the subject. I am sure you would agree that in the current situation within Iraq words such as civilian vs. insurgent have a remarkable ability to be in some way interchangeable depending on who reports the incident and what their feelings are on the war overall.
With that said you presented an issue of interest with clarity which was both informative and interesting. You have left me with a good deal of well formulated information and presented to me some guidance of how this issue may be addressed in the future and I am now left to ask myself the question of how such an issues should be dealt with, considering the important role that companies like Blackwater hold in Iraq.

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