The Guardian May 5, 2004


The rising corporate military monster

Russell Mokhiber & Robert Weissman

A corporate military monster is being created in Iraq. The US 
Government is relying on private military contractors like never 
before.

Approximately 15,000 military contractors, maybe more, are now 
working in Iraq. The four Americans brutally killed and mutilated 
in Fallujah on March 31 were part of this informal army of 
occupation.

Contractors are complicating traditional norms of military 
command and control, and challenging the basic norms of 
accountability that are supposed to govern the government's use 
of violence. Human rights abuses go unpunished. Reliance on 
poorly monitored contractors is bleeding the public treasury.

The contractors are simultaneously creating opportunities for the 
government to evade public accountability, and, in Iraq at least, 
are on the verge of evolving into an independent force at least 
somewhat beyond the control of the US military. And, as the 
contractors grow in numbers and political influence, their power 
to entrench themselves and block reform is growing.

Whatever the limitations of the military code of justice and its 
in-practice application, the code does not apply to the modern-
day mercenaries. Indeed, the mechanisms by which the contractors 
are held responsible for their behaviour, and disciplined for 
mistreating civilians or committing human rights abuses  all 
too easy for men with guns in a hostile environment  are fuzzy.

It is unclear exactly what law applies to the contractors, 
explains Peter W Singer, author of Corporate Warriors (Cornell 
University Press, 2003) and a leading authority on private 
military contracting. They do not fall under international law on 
mercenaries, which is defined narrowly. Nor does the national law 
of the United States clearly apply to the contractors in Iraq  
especially because many of the contractors are not Americans.

Relatedly, many firms do not properly screen those they hire to 
patrol the streets in foreign nations. "Lives, soldiers' and 
civilians' welfare, human rights, are all at stake", says Singer. 
"But we have left it up to very raw market forces to figure out 
who can work for these firms, and who they can work for."

There are already more than a few examples of what can happen, 
notable among them accusations that Dyncorp employees were 
involved in sex trafficking of young girls in Bosnia.

In general, the performance of the private military firms is 
horribly under-monitored.

Sometimes the lack of monitoring is a boon to the government 
agencies that hire the contractors. Although there are firm 
limits on the kinds of operations that US troops can conduct in 
Colombia, Singer notes, "it has been pretty loosey-goosey on the 
private contractor side."

The contractors are working with the Colombian military to defeat 
the guerilla insurgency in Colombia  unconstrained by 
Congressionally imposed limits on what US soldiers in Colombia 
may do.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, a problem of a whole different sort is 
starting to emerge.

The security contractors are already involved in full-fledged 
battlefield operations, increasingly so as the insurgency in Iraq 
escalates.

A few days after the Americans were killed in Fallujah, 
Blackwater Security Consulting engaged in full-scale battle in 
Najaf, with the company flying its own helicopters amidst an 
intense fire-fight to resupply its own commandos.

Now, reports the Washington Post, the security firms are 
networking formally, "organizing what may effectively be the 
largest private army in the world, with its own rescue teams and 
pooled, sensitive intelligence."

Because many of the security contractors work for the Coalition 
Provisional Authority, as opposed to the US military, they are 
not integrated into the military's operations. "Under assault by 
insurgents and unable to rely on US and coalition troops for 
intelligence or help under duress", according to the Post, 
the contractors are banding together.

Private occupying commandos?

Corporate military helicopters in a battlefield situation?

An integrated occupation private intelligence network?

Isn't this just obviously a horrible idea?

Given the problems that have already occurred in places like 
Colombia and Bosnia, the scale and now independent integrated 
nature of the private military operations in Iraq is asking for 
disaster, beyond that already inflicted on the Iraqis.

Making the problem still worse is that the monster feeds on 
itself.

The larger become the military contractors, the more influence 
they have in Congress and the Pentagon, the more they are able to 
shape policy, immunize themselves from proper oversight, and 
expand their reach.

The private military firms are led by ex-generals, the most 
effective possible lobbyists of their former colleagues  and 
frequently former subordinates  at the Pentagon.

As they grow in size, and become integrated into the military-
industrial complex (Northrop Grumman has swallowed a number of 
the military contractors, for example), their political leverage 
in Congress and among civilians in the executive branch grows.

Over the last decade or so, the phenomenon of private military 
contracting has grown unchecked. We're now at a precipice, with 
action to constrain the contractors about to become far, far more 
difficult than if the madness of employing mercenaries had been 
averted in the first place.

* * *
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, DC-based Corporate Crime Reporter, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, DC-based Multinational Monitor http://www.multinationalmonitor.org They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press; http://www.corporatepredators.org)

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