No Comment — January 11, 2010, 1:59 pm

Unaccountable Mercenaries

The New York Times calls the situation just the way it is:

A federal judge in Washington, Ricardo Urbina, has provided another compelling argument against the outsourcing of war to gunslingers from the private sector. In throwing out charges against Blackwater agents who killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in September 2007, Judge Urbina highlighted the government’s inability to hold mercenaries accountable for crimes they commit. Judge Urbina correctly ruled that the government violated the Blackwater agents’ protection against self-incrimination. He sketched an inept prosecution that relied on compelled statements made by the agents to officials of the State Department, who employed the North Carolina security firm to protect convoys and staff in Iraq. That, he said, amounted to a “reckless violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights.” During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton competed over who would take the toughest line against mercenaries. It is clear that the only way for President Obama to make good on the rhetoric is to get rid of the thousands of private gunmen still deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere…

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… There are many reasons to oppose the privatization of war. Reliance on contractors allows the government to work under the radar of public scrutiny. And freewheeling contractors can be at cross purposes with the armed forces. Blackwater’s undersupervised guards undermined the effort to win Iraqi support. But most fundamental is that the government cannot — or will not — keep a legal handle on its freelance gunmen. A nation of laws cannot go to war like that.

The Times places the blame squarely where it belongs: on the Executive Branch. It has developed a massive mercenary army, completely at odds with American tradition and doctrine. It has consciously failed to enforce the laws of war, notwithstanding solemn promises to the American people and the international community to do so. The current administration, to be fair, inherited this problem. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both promised to address it during the campaign, but it’s hard to find any evidence of action on these promises. To the contrary, the reliance on mercenaries is actually growing.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

April 2017

The Boy Without a Country

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Behind the Fig Leaf

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

You Can Run …

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Never Would I Ever

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The March on Everywhere

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Defender of the Community

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The March on Everywhere·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Photograph (detail) © Nima Taradji/Polaris
Post
The Forty-Fifth President·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Photograph (detail) by Philip Montgomery
Article
Defender of the Community·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Illustration (detail) by Katherine Streeter
Article
The Boy Without a Country·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Illustration (detail) by Shonagh Rae
Article
Asphalt Gardens·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In a city that is rapidly pricing out the poor, NYCHA’s housing projects are a last bastion of affordable shelter, with an average monthly rent of $509
Photograph (detail) © Samuel James

Ratio of the amount of water used to make the containers to the amount of bottled water consumed:

2:1

Police in Pforzheim, Germany, detained an owl who was drunk on schnapps.

In the United States, legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act was advanced by the House Ways and Means Committee after 18 hours of deliberation, during which time the Republican members of Congress passed around candy.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today