Shadow Army: ABC Discloses Use of Blackwater Contractors as Possible Mercenaries

Brian Ross at ABC has aired the results of his investigation into the use of alleged mercenaries by the United States. I was interviewed on the story, though I was obviously not at liberty to discuss it before it aired yesterday. Ross found evidence that private contractors were being used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq for combat missions — a role that raises very disturbing legal and policy questions.

The ABC storyis based on four current and former U.S. military and intelligence officers. The New York Times has also reported that raids against Iraqi insurgents were conducted “almost nightly” between 2004 and 2006, and “the operations became so routine that the lines supposedly dividing the Central Intelligence Agency, the military and Blackwater became blurred.”

Congress has historically moved against the use of private contractors for such purposes. The Defense Department bars the use of private security contractors (PSCs) for combat operations. In the FY2008 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress required full reporting on the use and weaponry of PSCs. Such contractors have been involved in controversial shootings such as the shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians at a Baghdad traffic circle in Nisoor Square by Blackwater employees.

The debate over PSCs has been over their use in combat areas, not just their use in combat — a role restricted for our regular forces. However, even their use in combat areas is viewed as inimical by military professionals. The executive summary for the U.S. Naval Academy’s 9th Annual McCain Conference on Ethics and Military Leadership stated this position recently:

We therefore conclude that contractors should not be deployed as security guards, sentries, or even prison guards within combat areas. APSCs should be restricted to appropriate support functions and those geographic areas where the rule of law prevails. In irregular warfare (IW) environments, where civilian cooperation is crucial, this restriction is both ethically and
strategically necessary.

This, however, is not a new position. Congress moved against the use of the Pinkerton Detective Agency after abuses found in crackdown against union organizers. The Anti-Pinkerton Act of 1893 (5 U.S.C. § 3108) barred the government from using private police companies and courts in cases like United States ex rel. Weinberger v. Equifax, 557 F.2d 456, 462 (5th Cir. 1977,) have interpreted this law as barring mercenary contracts. However, the government has blurred the line in Iraq and Afghanistan by defining companies like Blackwater as “guards” and security staff who are allowed to use lethal force in self-defense. See 71 Fed. Reg. 34826.

The CIA has always worked on the principle that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. However, this may have gone too far. As I stated to ABC, the descriptions given by its sources indicate the use of private contractors in clear combat operations. That would, in my opinion, raise serious legal questions.

The New York Times is also reporting that contracts with Blackwater have been cancelled and that there has been significant complaints about the work of a company called Xe Services, which was run by a division of the company called Blackwater Select.

The Pentagon has denied the use of contractors in combat missions despite the ABC sources. It, however, has refused to discuss the use of such private soldiers in the Vibrant Fury operation in 2006.

The use of mercenaries by the United States could have terrible consequences. Such soldiers are not covered by such things as the Geneva conventions and would have little protection if captured. Moreover, regular soldiers could be treated as mercenaries when captured if we blur the distinction. Finally, there was once a robust market for mercenaries that the United States played a major role in shutting down. If we are seen as now employing mercenaries, it could encourage other nations to expand their own use of such private soldiers.

For the video of the segment, click here.

For the Xe story, click here.

157 thoughts on “Shadow Army: ABC Discloses Use of Blackwater Contractors as Possible Mercenaries”

  1. Canadian Eh

    My husband helped set up and run a recycling plant in Barrie for a couple of years. Some friends he made while he was up there gave us a book about Barrie by John Bartosik as a gift one Christmas.

    Is it true that folks in Ottawa sometimes skate to work on the frozen canals in the winter?

  2. ROFL,
    I actually live on the first shelf of the refrigerator, just south enough not to have the cold blasts that Ottawa receives on a regular basis. However if you are in Texas, I guess to you I would be living in the deep freeze!

  3. Barrie is about 4 hours West of me, I am closer to Ottawa actually, although I have friends who did live in Barrie for a few years, back hoome noe though.

  4. AY,
    My mother is actually Scottish, and lamb, all sorts of liver, blood pudding and the like were placed on the table on many a night when I was growing up. I, however spent my younger days in ” La Belle Provance ” and often feasted on true French Canadian cuisine….poutine, les french fries, l’hot dog, patiserre…well you get the point. However, now living in semi rural Ontario, I have been offered fresh deer meat, moose meat, duck etc. by hunter friends, but am proud to say such delicacies have yet to pass my lips.

  5. Bleating. I thought you cannuks were english and you ate all sorts of stuff including spotted dick.

  6. I’ll take the coat, but to get me to eat the entre you’s need to fib and tell me it was at one time ” mooing ” and not
    ” bahhhhing “!

  7. Ya’ll need help. A sheep will keep you warm one way or the other.

  8. Silly people.

    Sheep are for eating!


    Although sometime you may need some Tums, you’ll usually avoid the therapy. 😀

  9. AY,
    I must admit I know little about Texas democrats, but I do know that if I start feeling guilty about what my sheep are doing to me the Ministry of Health will pay for my counseling 😉

  10. Is a Liberal Canadian like a Texas Democrat? We don’t care what you do with your sheep but when you start feeling guilty with what your sheep are doing to you, don’t expect me to pay your counseling.

  11. AY
    Yes, it would seem so. I have lurked on here for the past few weeks and have definately enjoyed the intellegent, well thought out, and, at times, witty conversation starters and rebuttals he’s posted. I am definately learning a great deal from several of you regulars on here. It’s refreshing for a me, as an extremely liberal Canadian, to learn that there are still a few of the same across the lake!

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