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Unaccountable Mercenaries

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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.

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