Private Security Contractors and the Responsibility to Protect | Harper's Magazine

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Private Security Contractors and the Responsibility to Protect


The mounting disclosures surrounding Blackwater and its extralegal relationships with the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command demonstrate ably the privileged role of private security contractors in the Bush era. This $100 billion dollar industry expanded dramatically in the last decade, largely as a result of the privatization of important aspects of U.S. national security. The heavy involvement of Blackwater in highly classified operations may explain why the Bush Administration was determined to immunize them and other security contractors from legal accountability: they “knew too much,” and a prosecution might lead to disclosure of operations the Bush team preferred to keep secret.

One of the emerging agenda items for the global community is the “responsibility to protect.” It posits that a government has a duty to its citizens, to protect them from acts of violence and terrorism, for instance, or to cope with destructive acts of nature such as hurricanes or a tsunami. If a government fails in this duty to protect its citizens, then the international community may have some collective obligation to step in to mitigate the worst abuses and help the civilian population. Private security contractors have long envisioned a growth industry for themselves in international peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention, so they have an investment in the expansion of “responsibility to protect” norms. But can this be reconciled with the doctrine of immunity for contractors in military operations that is part of the legacy of the Bush years?

I addressed this question in remarks made to an international gathering of law of war experts at the University of Turin in Italy on Thursday. My remarks can be examined here.

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