7 April 2004

Use of Mercenaries Blurs the Line

In the wake of Fallujah, I find this new reliance on private armies to be very troubling on so many different levels.

First, the dispute about whether or not the term mercenary is apropos. I believe it is.

Seven essential characteristics distinguish modern-day mercenaries from other combatants and military organizations:

Foreign: A mercenary is not a citizen or resident of the state in which he or she is fighting
Independence: A mercenary is not integrated (for the long term) into any national force and is bound only by contractual ties of a limited employer
Motivation: A mercenary fights for individual short-term economic reward, not for political or religious goals
Recruitment: Mercenaries are brought in by oblique and circuitous ways to avoid legal prosecution
Organization: Mercenary units are temporary and ad-hoc groupings of individual soldiers
Services: Lacking prior organization, mercenaries focus just on combat service, for a single client

Maybe it's not an exact fit, but private military force definitely smacks of mercenary-hood to me...

Why does it bother me so much?

  1. Accountability - mercenary loyalty is to the firm that employs them, not the country they fight for. Does anyone think that Chilean commandos recruited by Blackwater are serving because of patriotic duty to the U.S.A.? And there are no tallies on how many kills or how many killed, no military code of conduct to answer to, a total black hole.

  2. Cost - don't know the exact figure of what an enlisted soldier is taking home in pay, but I wager it's nothing near the $1,000 a day these private force individuals are collecting, let alone the $2,000 (and upward) that's being charged back to the government. It's estimated that half of the staff on some reconstruction projects are devoted to security. No wonder Iraqi engineers are steamed that their 300K bids are rejected for 50M bids by American/coalition firms. Soldiers are having to buy their own gear, but Uncle Sam can dish out thousands per day per man on these shadowy dudes?

  3. The free reign of lawlessness that such private military campaigns entail. Whereas a soldier would be courtmartialed for raping children, so-called contractors hop on a plane and return to America, without facing any charges for their brazen acts of hideous debauchery.
    In Bosnia, employees of DynCorp were found to be operating a sex-slave ring of young women who were held for prostitution after their passports were confiscated. In Croatia, local forces, trained by MPRI, used what they learned to conduct one of the worst episodes of "ethnic cleansing," an event that left more than 100,000 homeless and hundreds dead and resulted in war-crimes indictments. No employee of either firm has ever been charged in these incidents.

I'm not alone in my assessment either...

The current business boom is in Iraq. Blackwater charges its clients $1,500 to $2,000 a day for each hired gun. Most security contractors, like Blackwater's teams, live a comfortable if exhausting existence in Baghdad, staying at the Sheraton or Palestine hotels, which are not plush but at least have running water. Locals often mistake the guards for special forces or CIA personnel, which makes active-duty military troops a bit edgy. "Those Blackwater guys," says an intelligence officer in Iraq, "they drive around wearing Oakley sunglasses and pointing their guns out of car windows. They have pointed their guns at me, and it pissed me off. Imagine what a guy in Fallujah thinks." Adds an Army officer who just returned from Baghdad, "They are a subculture."

The Center for Public Integrity has published a web resource detailing the massive windfalls in post-war reconstruction dealt to those firms with the right contacts.

As a counterpoint, some argue that these PMF serve a noble need and are the Fox News Channel of the modern American military. It sounded like a feeble argument to me...

President Eisenhower's parting warnings still go unheeded today, nearly 45 years after...


Do you have a vagina? Because I think it's bleeding.