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. anon nurse:

    I like this one in this circumstance.

    Sir, I say that justice is truth in action.

    ~Benjamin Disraeli

  2. AY:

    I say turn them over to the justice of the Mullah. They have nothing but contempt for ours.

  3. mespo,

    Thank you. Did you catch the linked story as well?
    Biden vows the US will appeal in Iraq Blackwater case. The case was dismissed. I say turn them all over to the UN/Spain and let them have a fair trial.

  4. The following comes to mind:

    “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

    – Theodore Parker in the 1850s

  5. Hidden costs of war…


    Contractor Deaths Accelerating in Afghanistan as They Outnumber Soldiers

    by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica – April 14, 2010 2:09 pm EDT

    Contractor casualties are, by and large, invisible to the public, disguising the full human cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are not reported in totals given by the government. If they were, the death toll in Afghanistan would have surpassed 1,000 — 848 soldiers, 289 civilian contractors –from 2001 to 2009, a milestone that has gone entirely unmarked.

    End Quote


    Jeremy Cahill

    “Blackwater’s Youngest Victim” is a short film we made about the death of 9-year-old Ali Kinani at the hands of Blackwater forces. He was shot in his head during the 2007 Nisour Square massacre and is the youngest victim of that shooting. The film is based on my article by the same title in The Nation magazine. This video was produced with Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films and aired on Democracy Now! (end quote)

  7. [youtube=]

  8. Thanks for posting the additional links. (I wonder is Blackwater has trained any of Kankakee’s police officers. 🙂 )

  9. Did the CIA Deploy a Blackwater Hit Team in Germany?
    By Jeremy Scahill (The Nation, 1/ 8,/2010)

    German prosecutors have launched a preliminary investigation into allegations that the CIA deployed a team of Blackwater operatives on a clandestine operation in Hamburg, Germany, after 9/11 ultimately aimed at assassinating a German citizen with suspected ties to Al Qaeda. The alleged assassination operation was revealed last month in a Vanity Fair profile of Blackwater’s owner Erik Prince.

    This week, a senior lawmaker in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union called on Washington to provide an explanation. “If this commando really existed and the US government knew about it but didn’t notify our government then this would be a very grave incident,” said the lawmaker, Wolfgang Bosbach.

    His concerns were echoed in the US by Representative Jan Schakowsky, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “This really is part of an ongoing investigation that I can’t talk about, but even the fact that there is that allegation, I think, gives one a picture of the degree to which Blackwater has been completely enmeshed in these secret operations,” Schahowsky said. “And, you know, at least the allegation that they are, I think is disturbing enough. And there is an investigation going on around activities like that.”

  10. I thought immunity went so far as if you were working within the bounds of your contract. This seems a little excessive, even for the Dirty Dozen.

    “But the government has not prosecuted a single successful case for killings by armed contractors overseas. An Iraqi lawsuit against American military contractors by Iraqi victims of torture at Abu Ghraib was dismissed by a federal appeals court that said the companies had immunity as government contractors.”

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