In 2007, Erik D. Prince testified before a congressional hearing panel after employees of the cooperation of which he was the chief executive were accused of murdering 17 people.
That corporation was Blackwater Worldwide, and the employees were private military contractors who were executing a security detail for the U.S. State Department in Baghdad. Since the beginning of the Iraq war, Blackwater had essentially been granted total license in war zones in Iraq, employing armed contractors, indeed, private solders, whose actions were not concretely answerable to any jurisdiction, national, international, military, or otherwise.
After this incident about which the State Department, in its often terse, diplomatic, and convoluted language, noted quite plainly that “innocent life was lost”, Blackwater made a short-lived disappearance from Iraq, only to be re-contracted to work on behalf of the government again in 2009, this time re-branded (and since referred to as) Xe Services.
The company then tried to gain a foothold in Somalia, where it reaped a profit providing military services in a country marred by decades of internal conflict, keeping true to its founder’s vision to, as the New York Times put it, “turn Blackwater into an informal arm of the American foreign policy and national security apparatus” and “an influential force in regional conflicts around the world.”
Now, the United States is facing a diplomatic disaster in Pakistan. Months after a CIA operative who was also an employee of a private military firm killed two people in broad daylight in Pakistan, it was reported last Monday that Pakistan is demanding an immediate curtailing of CIA activities in the country, fraying even further the wine-glass delicate ally-ship of these two countries.
The troubles associated with hiring contractors to become virtual mercenaries are many. In a time when America has invaded a third Islamic nation on ideological grounds, and with the possibility of gaining a fourth enemy in Pakistan, private military companies need to be eliminated. The initial kickbacks gained from hiring professional fighters outside of the armed forces (such as not having to train civilians at the government’s expense) pales in comparison to the drawbacks of pitiful oversight, the potential for diplomatic nightmares, the solidifying of the crony-isitc military-industrial complex, and frequent, blatant human rights violations.
To be blunt, the U.S. should go so far as to outlaw the use of independent military contractors. The likely risk of recurrent human rights abuses during the fog of war alone should be enough to justify a thorough, exhaustive reevaluation of private militaries working for the US. Instead, the State department is increasing the use of these contractors in Iraq as the US military moves out of the country. If there was any place to slash from any future budgetary debacles much like the one witnessed lately at our nation’s capital, here is an easy target. And if it means that the money won’t go as far supporting a legitimate armed forces under civilian control, then maybe the US shouldn’t plan on fighting every perceived threat around the world.
Vicente Patino is a sophomore architecture major.
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Opinion Editor: Vicente Patino