Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

September 23, 2007

Blackwater Back To Work In Iraq

Filed under: politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:58 am

It came as no surprise to me that the U.S. pressured the Iraqi government to allow Blackwater to continue working in Iraq. As Jeremy Scahill points out, Blackwater is an equivalent to a praetorian guard. The differences in rules of engagement is quite intentional, along with the fact that they are not covered by military or Iraqi law. Their mission is to protect their client, by any means necessary, even if that means firing on civilians unprovoked.

Jeremy Scahill gets it right with his interview with Amy Goodman.

I found Doug Brooks hiding behind the international definition of mercenaries amusing, and his accusation that if Jeremy Scahill was a “serious” researcher, he wouldn’t use the term. However, when he is finally called on his definition, Brooks has a hard time explaining how Blackwater doesn’t meet the criteria. I’m sure there is some fine disingenuous splitting of hairs involved. What Doug Brooks really means to say is that United States can’t hire mercenaries, since that is a pejorative term that we use for adversaries. The United States hires security firms. If Scahill were “serious” he would understand that, just like this war isn’t for oil, it is to spread democracy throughout the Middle East.

In this respect, the Iraqi government is a failure. We need not look any further for a reason than our own “Declaration of Independence.”

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

So according to our founding document, Iraqi people are justified to end the American occupation, abolish the current government and establish one more likely to secure their safety and happiness. If Blackwater is indiscriminately killing people to protect their high-level official then obviously people aren’t being treated equally. To the extent that the Iraqi government supports this behavior, they are destructive to their own people, and hence the Iraqi people have a right to overthrow and establish a new one.

The true policy of the United States is not to establish a democracy. It is to establish a strong government to shoulder the burden of pacifying the populace, but not sovereign enough to take control of the oil. Such a government in Iraq is inherently unstable and probably untenable long-term.

Incidents like this, and their aftermath should make it broadly apparent to Americans why Iraq is destined to end in failure. The tipping point is whether there is significant community support to shield the “terrorists.” Try to place yourself as an Iraqi citizen, imagine that a family member was killed by a Blackwater employee, imagine that your home was bombed by a U.S. plane, and that you don’t have clean drinking water (a problem you didn’t have before the Americans came to liberate you). Who would you side with, the Americans and their supported government, or the “terrorists?” Winning the hearts and minds of average Iraqis is key to this conflict, but actions speak louder than words.

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10 Comments »

  1. Hiding behind definitions? Actually I was hiding behind reality. Jeremy Scahill may be an ‘award winning investigative journalist’ but he never bothered to interview IPOA before writing pages of ‘well researched’ nonsense about us. This despite the fact that we tried to contact him more than a half dozen times. It gives the definition of ‘lazy journalist’ a whole new meaning. Well, I guess lots of folks prefer to read what they want to read and ignore what they want to ignore. But we’re happy to talk to anyone for any reason. Relying on Mr. Scahill is the height of Ostrich worship.

    Always willing to talk to folks about the role of the private sector in conflict/post-conflict environments.

    Best regards,

    doug brooks, IPOA

    Comment by Doug Brooks — December 31, 2008 @ 8:35 am

  2. Fine Mr. Brooks, you have a forum.

    Explain how an employee in Blackwater does not fit the definition of a mercenary, in a way that is consistent with saying that a Hessian was a mercenary?

    Are you also saying that Blackwater is not, in effect, a praetorian guard?

    Give some examples of his “well researched” nonsense and what is wrong with them.

    You can bash Scahill all you want, but ad hominem attacks don’t speak well of your position until you provide the meat of mistakes that he made, or assertions that he made that are objectively not true.

    Although, I must admit “ostrich worship” is a funny insult coming from someone who makes their living as an apologist for mercenaries^H^H^H, I mean defense contractors.

    Comment by codesmithy — December 31, 2008 @ 10:02 am

  3. Many thanks for the response!

    Mercenary is simply a derogatory term if, like Jeremy Scahill, you refuse to use the actual definition from the Geneva Conventions.

    I like to point out that the real definition as seen in the press and cheesier books is ‘a business person or foreigner we don’t like’.

    The 1200 contractors doing diplomatic security in Iraq are working for the Department of State protecting diplomats – not taking the war to an enemy. Indeed, security contractors under public Rules for the Use of Force – defensive rules that allow self-defense, protection of the ‘noun’ they’ve been contracted to protect, and protection of civilians under mortal threat. The Rules are very different from the military’s Rules of Engagement, which are secret, aggressive and allow the proactive use of force to achieve a goal.

    The overwhelming majority of security contractors are actually locals – the folks who should be doing security in their own country (Mr. Scahill avoids breaking down the numbers since they ain’t sexy enough apparently). Indeed, about half of security contractors in Iraq are local nationals and more than 99% of security contractors in Afghanistan are local Afghans. Can a local Iraqi or Afghan be a ‘mercenary’ in their own country? Only if the term is truly a derogatory one.

    About 5% of contractors are security, the other 95% are logistics, reconstruction, camp support, maintenance, landmine removal, aviation, water purification, medical etc. Mr. Scahill glosses over that too.

    I’m guessing you haven’t done much research on IPOA yourself (even less than Mr. Scahill apparently?). IPOA was founded in April of 2001 to ensure effective and ethical private sector support for international peace operations – especially in places that the West has largely abandoned. Prior to IPOA I was an academic fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs and I did a good bit of research in Sierra Leone and elsewhere. I’ve written quite a bit on this, and I’d be happy to provide links if allowed – at the very least folks should check out the web site and our Journal of International Peace Operations (although FYI people using Internet Explorer to view the site have been experiencing a Microsoft-related bug of some sort).

    IPOA has a Code of Conduct developed over the past 8 years and complaints procedure that has incorporated the input and suggestions of numerous NGOs, human rights organizations and academics we are engaged with on these issues. To be clear, industry self-regulation can only supplement governmental oversight and legal systems, but we have an obligation to do the best we can in any case.

    You may not like contractors, but no mission – Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, DR Congo, Darfur etc. – could succeed without contractors. So it makes a great deal of sense to ensure they are utilized effectively and with appropriate ethical and legal frameworks.

    And you really can’t blame Jeremy Scahill for sexing up what he writes – he’s trying to sell his books. Actually, it is more interesting to see what he leaves out of his explanations than what he actually includes. However, to be an actual investigative reporter, one would hope they actually investigate things, even to the point of talking to the folks they’re writing about. Am I wrong on this point?

    Sorry about the ‘ostrich worship’ comment, but it did get some attention!

    Best regards and happy New Year!

    doug

    Comment by Doug Brooks — December 31, 2008 @ 3:57 pm

    • To start with, I want to say my criticism was extraordinarily narrow. My familiarity with IOPA is largely irrelevant.

      My concern is Blackwater and security firms like it in Iraq. I agree with you that Scahill throws out numbers of defense contractors without proper qualification. As I have written before:
      https://codesmithy.wordpress.com/2007/09/18/blackwater-usa-banned-from-iraq/

      Scahill does have a tendency to talk about Blackwater, then the number of contractors in Iraq (which are not all mercenaries) and throw out terms like Praetorian Guard. I think Stewart has a right to slow him down and call him on his premises. One cannot expect a bunch of bobble-heads to automatically jump to the cause. It does require one to make a clear and convincing case. However, Scahill does have some holes in his argument. The “why-aren’t-you-panicking-like-I’m-panicking-right-now” aspect of the radical left and the attacking of sympathizers rubs many people (and me) the wrong way.

      The only point of criticism that I made of you, personally, is that you refuse to specify why organizations like Blackwater, don’t fit the definition of mercenary. Twice you have said that it doesn’t fit the Geneva Convention definition without specifying why. I will give you a third chance.

      This is the Geneva Convention definition.

      http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/93.htm

      A mercenary is any person who:
      (a) Is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
      (b) Does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
      (c) Is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
      (d) Is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
      (e) Is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
      (f) Has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.

      I won’t put words in your mouth. What part doesn’t fit, specifically? Is it because they are all nationals to a party in the conflict, they are not taking direct part in the hostilities, or something else?

      However, even if I agree with your point that Blackwater doesn’t fit the Geneva convention condition, I personally don’t feel obliged to use words as they are defined in an arbitrary treaty, the understood English definition is implied unless otherwise specified. This isn’t a legal argument, I’m just trying to succinctly describe a hired gun directly employed by a for profit business. I am willing to revise my usage of the term if you feel I am unfairly implying that they are non-nationals or foreign fighters. Is paramilitary force better?

      Comment by codesmithy — January 1, 2009 @ 10:47 am

  4. Thanks for your response.

    Keep in mind that all the six aspects of the definition in the Geneva convention have to be met to apply. (d) clearly does not apply, and it should be pointed out that being hired simply to protect civilians does not (and should not) automatically make one a combatant. For those doing static security, say mall cops and bank guards, are they ‘combatants’ in places like Sri Lanka, Colombia or the DR Congo? The motivation clause could be challenging to prove as well – what if their primary motivation is to support the larger mission and the money is secondary? Ultimately the ‘mercenary’ term is more derogatory than useful.

    More to the point is determining whether an individual commits a crime and holding them accountable in an area of conflict. This is an issue that plagues all peace and stability operations from Iraq to Haiti to Darfur. Theoretically international peacekeeping troops are subject to the laws of their home countries though they are rarely actually prosecuted and punishment generally means simple removal from a mission. With civilians hired to support these missions they can and should be held to a higher standard, we’re paying big bucks for them to be professional in areas of chaos after all. The devil is in the details as we see in the case of the five contractors charged in the Nissour Square incident. This could be an extraordinarily complex trial, but it is important on a number of levels.

    First, Iraqis (and all populations with international interventions underway) need to see justice moving forward. There should be no impunity and the process should be transparent. Much anger can be assuaged simply by having a transparent legal process moving forward to determine guilt and innocence and with the possibility of real sanctions. There are more than 50 cases against contractors pending in the U.S. Department of Justice, but the whole process is arbitrarily opaque, which is frustrating to Iraqis, Afghans, taxpayers and even the industry which actually benefits from an effective legal process.

    Second, the civilian contractors being charged should have the opportunity to make their case in a court of law and have the opportunity to clear their names. There have been many accusations against contractors ranging from the substantive to the absurd – but without a legal forum to address these charges the media almost always accepts the charges as factual for the rest of time.

    And finally, we have always utilized civilians to support international policies in the field and we always will. No Western military could be relevant beyond its borders without utilizing the services of the private sector. No UN peacekeeping mission could succeed without the services of private contractors. The private sector brings essential skill sets and enormous cost savings vital to these missions. Good oversight and good legal accountability benefits the better companies and better contractors. If we truly believe that the international community should have the right and ability to intervene to end terrible humanitarian loss in conflict then ensuring effective, appropriate and accountable use of civilians to support the effort is essential.

    As for terminology, I still like the Department of Defense term ‘contingency contractors’ which applies to all contractors working in ‘complex emergencies’ (peace operations, disaster relief) and the simple term ‘private security company’ (PSC) for firms that are hired to specifically guard nouns (people places and things) – be they armed or unarmed guards. It does grate when pundits gloss over the contractor terminology deliberately implying all contractors are heavily armed foreigners. We should demand that the contractors we hire for these unique operations be professionals who behave professionally, but at the same time we should not be deriding or insulting them for their willingness to risk life and limb to achieve critical international goals.

    Best regards,

    doug

    Comment by Doug Brooks — January 1, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

  5. Keep in mind that all the six aspects of the definition in the Geneva convention have to be met to apply. (d) clearly does not apply

    As for (d), Scahill points out that there are some examples of people who are foreign nationals. Are you saying that there were no nationals of non-participating countries providing security in Iraq?

    , and it should be pointed out that being hired simply to protect civilians does not (and should not) automatically make one a combatant.

    I agree, hiring some one to protect a civilian doesn’t automatically mean that they a combatant.

    However, I think a fair determination of the role they are expecting to play can be surmised by the amount of weaponry you bring with you to the job. If you have a automatic rifle and wear body armor then I think it is safe to say that you are planning on taking part in the hostilities. The fact that they have taken part in hostilities is indisputable.

    For those doing static security, say mall cops and bank guards, are they ‘combatants’ in places like Sri Lanka, Colombia or the DR Congo?

    If the country is effectively under martial law and the mall cops and bank guards come to work with automatic rifles and body armor and felt free to fire on people who approached the bank or mall and were specifically recruited because they had a high-level of military expertise that they were expected to employ, I would consider it misleading to call such a person just a mall cop or bank guard.

    The motivation clause could be challenging to prove as well – what if their primary motivation is to support the larger mission and the money is secondary?

    If they are a corporation, which Blackwater is, they have a legal obligation to maximize profit for shareholders. The motivation clause is a legal tautology in this case.

    Ultimately the ‘mercenary’ term is more derogatory than useful.

    Not “useful,” to what end?

    I would not enter into any discussion where I would have to surrender the English vocabulary. The only part of your argument that I accept is the part about foreign nationals, using the word mercenary does unfairly imply that they are not nationals, and this clause does distinguish between Hessians and Blackwater. As such, I will not call Blackwater a mercenary organization, because this does misleading imply that the majority are of a nationality not party to the conflict.

    On the flip-side, if a Chilean national were in the employ of Blackwater, do you accept that they person could accurately be described as a mercenary?

    As for your points about justice surrounding security contractors, I am not going to get into any hand-wringing about this. Iraq has a government, if it is sovereign, then private contractors are subject to their laws. If the justice doled out in that country was good enough Saddam Hussein, then we are hypocrites to claim that it can’t be applied to us.

    As far as private contracting is concerned, I am not going to argue with you about its necessity. Obviously, our economy is based on a public-private alliance. However, there are pit-falls in the system, and what has traditionally been called war profiteering and grift has taken place in Iraq. Private armies, like Blackwater, are especially dangerous for reasons that the videos of them shooting at civilians show.

    Comment by codesmithy — January 2, 2009 @ 10:18 am

  6. If someone wants to use the ‘mercenary’ that’s fine – just recognize when the term is clearly being used in a derogatory and not legal sense.

    >As for (d), Scahill points out that there are some examples of people
    >who are foreign nationals. Are you saying that there were no nationals
    >of non-participating countries providing security in Iraq?

    And

    >On the flip-side, if a Chilean national were in the employ
    >of Blackwater, do you accept that they person could accurately
    >be described as a mercenary?

    Again by the Geneva definition they are not – even if one assumes that they are being brought in specifically for combat and *not* as in this case -basic security. Chileans and other Third Country Nationals (TCNs) are paid far less than combatants of the nation hiring them:

    (c) . . . material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;

    >However, I think a fair determination of the role they are expecting to play
    >can be surmised by the amount of weaponry you bring with you to the job.
    >If you have a automatic rifle and wear body armor then I think it is safe
    >to say that you are planning on taking part in the hostilities. The fact that
    >they have taken part in hostilities is indisputable.

    Then if we decide the Geneva Conventions are little more than scrap paper, can we see the definition you would use for the term?

    To understand the issue we have to go back to the ‘mercenary’ term as used by the media which is best boiled down to ‘business people and foreigners we don’t like’. It is simply a derogatory term. Security guards in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur and eastern Congo may be doing more robust security than they person hired to sit at the desk in the lobby of office buildings in the United States, but the principle is the same and neither of them are hired to take a war to an enemy – they are simply hired to protect a noun. The level of risk in the environment determines the kind of security necessary. But we should be clear: if a security guard commits a crime while doing their job, they can certainly be defined criminals – the same as anyone who commits a crime.

    Companies operate in foreign nations under local laws all the time; that in itself is nothing special. However, when the international community decides to stabilize a weak or failed state with legal and penal systems of questionable or weedy legitimacy they ensure there are appropriate legal protections for the folks who will be carrying out the work – be they civilian or military. Accountability is essential as I’ve highlighted, but without appropriate protections you will find that the true reconstruction and security professionals will be replaced by the adventurers, who might not be the ideal folks for the jobs. Quality and professionalism matters in stability operations.

    Finally, in terms of ‘war profiteering’ – another wonderfully derogatory phrase – please tell me what is an appropriate profit margin for a company providing essential services in a high-risk area of instability? Can ‘war profiteering’ include relief work?

    Hmmm, this is getting interesting!

    Best regards,

    doug

    Comment by Doug Brooks — January 3, 2009 @ 4:35 pm

  7. Wow, I did not that. I must say how TCNs get out of not being mercenaries from the Geneva convention is very Catch-22-esque. I think it perfectly demonstrates the absurdity of following the letter of the law, but not the spirit of it.

    Then if we decide the Geneva Conventions are little more than scrap paper, can we see the definition you would use for the term?

    I didn’t say that the Geneva convention is little more than a scrap of paper. As I said before, when I use the term mercenary, there is no expectation that I mean it meets all the criteria of how the Geneva convention defines it, but rather how it is commonly understood in the English language. Just like when I use the word evolution, I don’t necessarily mean it the precise way it is defined in a biology textbook. If help is needed in this regard, I would suggest a dictionary.

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mercenary

    one that serves merely for wages ; especially : a soldier hired into foreign service

    Secondly, if Hessians weren’t mercenaries than the word loses most of its meaning to me. According to the Geneva definition, this means they would have to be paid more than the average British solider. I’m not sure that was the case. But, hypothetically, let‘s say they were paid less. I would still use the word mercenary to describe them. Even then, there seem to be people that take issue even with applying the term mercenary even to them (http://www.vondonop.org/hessianfaq.html#Mercenaries).

    My main concern is not whether or not the term mercenary is pejorative, it is whether or not it is accurate (I don’t actually think highly of the whole political correctness movement). In our back-and-forth, you’ve convinced me that it can be misleading. As such, I won’t use the term, but I won’t think any less of people who do. The crusade is yours.

    Finally, in terms of ‘war profiteering’ – another wonderfully derogatory phrase – please tell me what is an appropriate profit margin for a company providing essential services in a high-risk area of instability? Can ‘war profiteering’ include relief work?

    Assuming a free market, the expected profit should be roughly equal to the interest you’d accrue in a bank account in the region. However, the fact that grift has taken place in Iraq is well documented.

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/16076312/the_great_iraq_swindle
    No End In Sight – http://www.noendinsightmovie.com/
    Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone – Rajiv Chandrasekaran

    I’m sure you can find more if you go looking for it.

    ‘War profiteering’ can include relief work. It is moral equivalent trying to sell someone a life-vest when they are drowning.

    Comment by codesmithy — January 4, 2009 @ 10:08 am

  8. Hmmm, I think we’re scarily in agreement on a lot of things . . .

    I think the only point I would make here is we should focus less on profit margins and more on how well a company does a job.

    Why would anyone do a high risk reconstruction or relief project if they are limited to the same income they could simply depositing their money in a bank? All risk with no benefit. If we want enthusiastic, energetic and innovative firms supporting international policies we have to allow incentives.

    Profits are the incentives that enable goals to be achieved. A simple example might be two water purification companies hired to provide their service in a refugee camp. One produces the contractually required volume of purified water and earns say 5% profit. The other is more technologically advanced and thus costs half as much to purify the same water volume, but makes a 30% profit. The second is a far better deal for the taxpayers – but do we use the more expensive company with a lower profit margin because a 30% profit is clearly ‘war profiteering’?

    In fact, one business school determined the average profit margin for contingency contractors is 7%. The much derided KBR until recently ran the LOGCAP III contract at a 1% profit margin (with a potential 2% bonus on any given project) – a fact that is rarely even mentioned by media and KBR critics (and full disclosure: KBR is not a member of IPOA though they should be . . .). Because LOGCAP is a cost-plus contract KBR had to put its own money up first to buy things and then bill the government later – some analysts claimed they had $900m of their own money supporting the LOGCAP contract and *not* making interest, which pretty much eats up the profit margin right there. Hardly the lucrative industry everyone assumes (if you want to make profits, make airplanes . . . heck, even domestic retailers mark up products 50%).

    Contingency contracting is a highly competitive industry and there are always better companies and better ideas coming along. If we arbitrarily reduce profit margins we undermine the competitiveness and innovation, and we dissuade superior companies from engaging in the field – all of which undermines the very policies we’re trying to achieve.

    While we obsess about Iraq and Afghanistan today, the greatest humanitarian disasters are in Sudan and even more the DR Congo – where millions have died due to instability and war. We need a robust and innovative private sector that is able to quickly and efficiently support international efforts, including the UN, African Union and others. Arbitrarily reducing contingency contractor profit margins to minimal levels retards their willingness and ability to deploy effectively and undermines the international community’s ability to be successful peace makers.

    Good oversight and accountability benefit the better companies by weeding out the weaker companies unable to comply with rules, laws and regulations – simply reducing profit margins reduces the ability and enthusiasm of firms that specialize in providing services in conflict, post-conflict and disaster-relief areas. The profit margins in the industry are remarkably tight, but the net effect of making them tighter by fiat will ultimately undermine the point of the policies we’re trying to support – with dire humanitarian consequences.

    Anyway, I’ve probably worn out my soap box by now! Many thanks for the opportunity to sound off a wee bit.

    Best regards,

    Doug

    Comment by Doug Brooks — January 4, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

  9. The point about the bank account was merely that in a free market, as imagined by Adam Smith or Milton Friedman, the profit margin of a company tends towards the interest rate (that is if you could get rid of all of those pesky distortions). Theoretically, the risks are taken into account by the lending institution and all legitimate innovation is adopted by competitors and then undercut. Alan Greenspan was a big believer in private entities being the most able to assess their risks, although he has back-tracked on that quite a bit lately.

    The model economists use is, of course, unrealistic. Practically, there is a balance that can be reached between contracting through a bidding process and places where the government can achieve the best results just handling the work itself. The problem has been that many tasks that can be handled well inside the military have been handed out to private contracting firms (like laundry, security and food services), and the bidding process itself has been riddled with corruption and cronyism.

    This might be bad enough, but this also happens to be taking place in a foreign country that we just invaded, where a large majority of the population wants us to leave, and blames us for the problems they are experiencing. Even if American private contractors are capable of doing a job for cheaper and more professionally, there are local political concerns relating to nationalism, racism, religious bigotry, geo-political considerations, unemployment and general issues arising from invasion.

    That said, I don’t think I’ll get you to agree with me. I think we honestly see the world different, and as Upton Sinclair put it, “it is difficult to get a man understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” But, I thank you for your time.

    Comment by codesmithy — January 6, 2009 @ 9:45 am


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