Friday, April 08, 2016

Reigning In Private Military Firms

Private military firms (PMFs) have become a common appearance in war-torn areas across the world. In Iraq, it was estimated that there were 15-20,000 private military personnel in 2004.[i] Between 2003 and 2007, the United States (U.S.) military spent $85 billion on federal contracts in Iraq.[ii] These PMFs do everything from logistics, to consulting military leaders, to conducting the actual security operations on the ground. With all that is known about these firms, there is even more unknown. For example, little information is available about how much profit these groups make. It is estimated they make between $10 billion to $100 billion annually.

The general public knows little about the government’s use of PMF’s. Much of this is done on purpose. For example, if congress puts a number cap on the amount of U.S. troops abroad, the government can keep to that cap, but increase troops numbers by hiring PMF’s. This can be a political advantage to improve strategy, but it still is costing taxpayers without their knowledge.

The public became aware of the problems and lack of transparency with PMF’s as a result of events on Sept. 16, 2007. On this day, Blackwater’s security firm, contracted with the Department of State, opened fired on Nisour Square killing 14 Iraqis.[iii] Due to previous U.S. agreements and law, it looked as if Blackwater employees were not going to be criminally charged.

The specific problems with the law and the agreements are complicated. Basically when the U.S. began working with the new Iraqi government, they created a U.S.-Iraqi Status of Force Agreement. This agreement (specifically the Coalition Provisional Authority, Order 17) proclaimed that contractors for the U.S. government in Iraq would not be subject to Iraqi law.[iv] In addition, the U.S. had its own agreements with contractors under law. Specifically the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act made all contractors working with the Department of Defense subject to U.S. law.[v] The problem arose that Blackwater contracted with the Department of State, not the Department of Defense. As a result, there were questions to whether they were subject to U.S. or Iraqi law at all. Nevertheless, the U.S. charged and convicted one guard to life in prison and three others to 30 years in prison.[vi]
Regardless of these convictions, there are still questions about whether the U.S. can charge civilian contractors who don’t work for the Department of Defense under U.S. laws. The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act was amended to cover also those who not only contracted with the Department of Defense but also to contractors when their employment is “related to support the Department of Defense mission overseas.”[vii] However, this still provides opportunity for U.S. contractors to slip through the cracks of justice. Recently, a Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act was drafted, but failed in congress.[viii] An act like the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act needs to be passed in order to make sure that all civilian contractors throughout the world are held accountable for their actions whether they are subject to a host’s nations law or not.

[i] Scott-Joynt, Jeremy; Iraqi Security in Private Hands; BBC News; June, 28, 2016;
[ii] Associate Press; “Private Battles”; The Economist; August 19, 2008;
[iii] Apuzzo, Matt; Blackwater Guards Found Guilty in 2007 Iraqi Killings; New York TimesOct. 22, 2014;
[iv] Scott-Joynt, Jeremy; Iraqi Security in Private Hands; BBC News; June, 28, 2016;
[vi] Apuzzo, Matt; Blackwater Guards Found Guilty in 2007 Iraqi Killings; New York TimesOct. 22, 2014; Apuzzo, Matt; “Ex-Blackwater Guards Given Long Terms for Killing Iraqis”; New York Times; April 13, 2015;
[vii] See the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, 2008.
[viii] See Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, 2011;

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