03 October 2007

Our Mercenaries (Follow-Up)

Readers have bought to my attention two essays that afford a useful basis for conversations re: "private military contractors."

The first ~ "The Dark Truth About Blackwater" ~ in Salon.com, is by Peter Singer who has written extensively on the issue. Here is his punchline: "When we evaluate the facts, the use of private military contractors appears to have harmed, rather than helped, the counterinsurgency efforts of the U.S. mission in Iraq, going against our best doctrine and undermining critical efforts of our troops. Even worse, the government can no longer carry out one of its most basic core missions: to fight and win the nation's wars. Instead, the massive outsourcing of military operations has created a dependency on private firms like Blackwater that has given rise to dangerous vulnerabilities." Singer suggests that we need a fundamental rethinking of our reliance on mercenaries (my word, not his). He is right.

The second ~ "Prosecuting Blackwater - A Brief Tour of the Law" ~ is a blog post by David Luban at Balkinization.Here is Luban, a Georgetown University law professor: What, if anything, can the law do? Specifically: Is there any law under which Private Security Contractors who commit crimes of violence against Iraqis can be prosecuted? That turns out to be a hard question. Here’s a preliminary cut. ... Basically, there are three possibilities: prosecution under Iraqi law, under U.S. civilian law, and under U.S. military law." The prospects for any of these alternative legal strategies are, in Luban's estimation, are approaching epsilon (a very, very tiny number). Here's the Readers Digest version: [i] The Iraqis have no legal authority to prosecute our mercenaries thanks to a last minute order by Paul Bremmer as he ran out of town with the demise of the "Provisional Authority" he headed in Baghdad. [ii] With very rare exceptions (e.g., crimes against U.S. nationals committed on U.S. military bases) federal law does not apply abroad. [iii] Finally, despite small legal windows, prosecuting law-breaking mercenaries under military law seems a long shot because, well, they are civilians!

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