Can’t say I’m surprised

The more attention paid to a thing, the more flaws become apparent.

The private contracting firm, Blackwater, now faces an arms-smuggling probe. This comes just after the recent hub-ub where the fledgling Iraqi government banned the company’s license to operate in Iraq.

Turns out an incident involving Blackwater employees resulted in some civilian deaths. There are differing opinions as to what happened and we don’t know for sure; but, the Iraqi government, in response, wanted this company out of Iraq.

That introduced a problem for the U.S. and the efforts in Iraq. Since we rely on the extensive use of these mercenaries in theater, Iraq’s objection to their presence is problematic. Blackwater and other private military companies cover areas that the Army just can’t—diplomatic escorts, various convoy security operations, etc. If they were taken out of the equation, diplomatic travel, camp security and a smattering of other military operations would stall.

The U.S. response to the Iraqi edict? Promise action while proceeding with business as usual. Iraq, powerless to force the U.S. to do anything, has expanded its probe into Blackwater’s past, showing evidence to previous incidents in an effort to press their plea to get them out of the country.

So, once U.S. lawmakers actually start paying attention to how this firm operates, more bad news follows. I can’t say I’m surprised.

There have always been concerns about the current use of mercenaries in this conflict. They are not held to any sort of overarching standards for ethical conduct. There is no sort of international watchdog organization that regulates the behavior and operation of these private military firms. Some have wondered since the invasion’s inception whether or not non-regulated mercenaries could be trusted with lethal force amongst civilians in a shattered country.

In the military, servicemembers are governed by the uniform code of military justice. We also attempt to abide by the Geneva Conventions, although current combatant rights are debatable in the absence of a conventional enemy. That means that, typically, if a servicemember kills, rapes, steals or, in some other way, acts outside of the normal ethical bounds of killing people, he would be punished.

Private military companies aren’t legally bound by the same standards. They are free to operate as they internally see fit. If an employee misbehaves, that person is fired and sent home.

Again, some people have a problem with this. Should mercenary companies, who make billions off of dollars in the wake of the invasion, be used at all? Given the immense profitability of the perpetuated conflict, is there room for negligent use of lethal force? Can the employees within these private military companies be trusted to operate ethically? With no recourse apart from a job loss, can there be a binding set of standards imposed on these companies?

After years of ignoring the issue, we might finally see a good discussion and examination of how mercenaries are utilized in our conflicts.


About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

5 responses to “Can’t say I’m surprised”

  1. wilsonian says :

    Can I ask how it felt to be in Iraq with them? I don’t know how much contact you would have had, but it seems to me that it must create a strange situation for enlisted folk.

  2. Ian says :

    According to reports I’ve seen on TV, John Q. Iraqi feels a lot more fearful of mercenaries like Blackwater operators than they do, say, of the regular uniformed services. That’s because, it seems, Blackwater’s guys have a reputation (whether deserved or not) of shooting first and asking questions later.

    That aside, I think our use of them is incredibly unethical, not only because of the fact that they can sideskirt the normal rules of engagement and behavior imposed on the military, but also because of the fact that their use constitutes extreme war profiteering on the part of private American firms.

  3. Joshua says :

    Wilsonian: I didn’t have much contact with them. I passed them on the roads, but didn’t spend much face-to-face time. Some of those guys are ex-special forces and the like, so they definitely have the military training (courtesy of the tax payer). Now they are just free to do what some soldiers always half-joked about: kill ’em all.

    Ian: Iraqis fear the threat of force. It’s fascinating how afraid they are of 9mm pistols, for example. Saddam and his minions always carried pistols, and the fear they generated still exists. They could give two sh*ts about a soldier with a rifle, but if they saw a pistol, there would be a marked attitude change.

    I guess Blackwater is building that same sort of terrorizing demeanor.

    I also think our use of mercenaries is incredibly unethical. Easy for me to say from this end, apart from trying to occupy a country with a dwindling military; but from an ideal perspective, the immense amount of profit all of our corporations are making on the backs of the war dead is heartbreaking. God will remember.

  4. Adrian says :

    I cant speak for Iraq, only Afghanistan, but I’m sure the situation is the same.

    The Blackwater guys in Afghanistan served mostly in a personal security detachment function. They were the guys surrounding Hamid Karzai or the 3-star general. And I think this is a good and important role for them to serve. Regular Soldiers dont need to be bullet stoppers for generals and dignitaries. When they start doing convoy security or presence patrols – that’s where it becomes shady.

    Also – and this is in Afghanistan – local leaders would regularly hire their own private militias as well – and they aren’t held accountable any more than Blackwater guys.

    There are definately shady cowboys out there – but I do think they serve a purpose in some respects. And they SHOULD be held accountable.

  5. Faciamus says :

    One of the things I usually ask myself in any event is who is prospering from it, in other words, follow the money trail. Blackwater and other government contractors are the ones profitting quite handsomely from the Iraq war. Blackwater’s history is very interesting as well. Lots of strong ties to the Republican party and even Amway.

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