Knowingly Unchecked Aggression: Private Military Contractors in Iraq
by Francisco Saldaña
The Vietnam War and other wars of the 1970s catastrophically damaged the government's ability to rally the confidence of the nation in pursuing military goals. After the end of the Cold War, large standing armies were no longer seen as necessary for the United States to maintain, it being the only remaining world superpower. In response to public pressure, our government has increasingly called upon assistance from private industry in its military endeavors. Private companies were first hired to maintain military facilities, performing support services like cleaning and food preparation, allowing more soldiers to be dedicated to the mission at hand. This move also generally improved morale—the delegated tasks were unexciting ones from the point of view of a soldier. Unfortunately, the gravitation towards privatization has not lessened. The Iraq war has marked a new era in warfare: the era of the private sector. Today, according to Charlie Cray's article "Meet the War Profiteers," CACI International Inc. provides intelligence services to the Pentagon; Blackwater Inc., security forces; and Halliburton Inc., construction and maintenance services. Countless others have taken advantage of the cash cow that is Iraq reconstruction. The rules of this playing field, this Pandora's box, we have now opened up are still being defined. Our government has simply decided to make them up as it goes along.
Of course, our government does this completely intentionally. Private contractors grant an unprecedented amount of power to the Executive branch, power not contingent on the oversight of the Congress or Judiciary. The number of individuals working in Iraq under the employ of a company contracted by the United States government is not tallied in official reports, according to Peter Singer's article, "Outsourcing War." When a company is contracted by the government, the contract gives the company full control over deciding the number of personnel needed to complete a job. Any casualties suffered by any employee of these contracting companies can only be discovered indirectly, via filed insurance claims, according to Mary Cooper's article "Privatizing the Military." These omissions dramatically alter the perception of just how much of our resources are being invested in this war. Jane Mayer, in her article "Contract Sport," concurs, citing Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force general: "There are some hundred and thirty-five thousand American troops in Iraq, but Gardner estimated there would be as many as three hundred thousand if not for private contractors. He said, 'Think how much harder it would have been to get Congress, or the American public, to support those numbers'" (4). When Congress and the American public aren't given the full story regarding exactly what is happening overseas, we can not make intelligent and informed decisions based on concrete facts. No criticism of policy can be levied if the information to base it on is incomplete or knowingly augmented.
Private contractors grant an unprecedented amount of power to the Executive branch, power not contingent on oversight of the Congress or Judiciary.
Congress is finding this fact out the hard way. According to Charlie Cray, the Pentagon itself stated, in 2000, that it had serious concerns about contracting out intelligence-gathering duties, believing it "an inherently governmental function barred from private sector performance." Nevertheless, CACI and Titan Incorporated have provided critical intelligence services to the armed forces throughout the conflict in Iraq. This trust has proven too easily earned. In his article "Torture at Abu Ghraib" discussing the Taguba Report, an Armed Forces internal investigation of the events at Abu Ghraib leaked to the public in May 2004, The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh writes: "the military-intelligence teams, which included C.I.A. officers and linguists and interrogation specialists from private defense contractors, were the dominant force inside Abu Ghraib" (2). General Antonio Taguba's report gives, in gruesome detail, the specifics of the incidents that occurred: "Punching, slapping, and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet...Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing…A male MP guard having sex with a female detainee" were among the abuses. This report was originally marked "Secret/No Foreign Dissemination," the second-strictest confidentiality designation, before the leak occurred (Office of the Press Secretary). Given the administration's strict adherence to a doctrine of hesitant, often only forced, dissemination of information, without the leak the American public would likely not have seen anything at all regarding the incidents, nor would any corrective measures been made. According to Hersh, General Janis Kapinski, who was put in charge of Iraq's prison system immediately prior to the investigation, is reported to have said in an interview with The St. Petersburg Times, "living conditions now are better in prison than at home. At one point we were concerned that [the prisoners] wouldn't want to leave" (1).
In his report, General Taguba directly implicated two CACI employees who played key roles in the abuse of detainees. He recommended that both Steven Stephanowicz, an interrogator, and John Israel, an interpreter, "be given an Official Reprimand to be placed in his employment file." According to the report, Stephanowicz "[m]ade a false statement to the investigation team regarding the locations of his interrogations, the activities during his interrogations, and his knowledge of abuses" and "[a]llowed and/or instructed [Military Police], who were not trained in interrogation techniques, to facilitate interrogations by 'setting conditions' which were neither authorized and [sic] in accordance with applicable regulations/policy. He clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse." Stephanowicz instructed the Army personnel in how to torture the inmates in ways that would allow him and his staff to more easily extract information. According to Pratap Chatterjee, "Meet the Interrogators: Lockheed Martin," over 30% of the interrogation staff were not trained in official army interrogation techniques at all. None of them knew what the Geneva Conventions were, let alone how to apply them. Taguba recommended for Stephanowicz "termination of employment, and generation of a derogatory report to revoke his security clearance," though no evidence has arisen that any of Taguba's recommendations pertaining to the contractors has been followed, according to Tara McKelvey's article "The Unaccountables."
According to McKelvey, the penalties levied on army personnel have dramatically outpaced those levied on the contracted employees. Court Martial processes led to the prosecution of all military personnel involved in the scandal, though, according to an October 3rd, 2007 article by the Agence France-Presse news agency, the charges against the civilian contractors themselves were dropped in a civil court "on the grounds that it had not been filed near their places of residence." Charges brought against Titan, the contracting company providing translators and interpreters during the incident were dropped ("US Judge"). According to a New York Times article, "Titan interrogators were generally supervised and under the control of military officials," so the blame lies more with the military personnel who instructed the interpreters ("Judge Allows"). However, CACI, the company that provided the interrogators, still deserves blame, because, according to Judge James Robertson, "CACI retained significant authority to manage its employees" ("Judge Allows"). Employees of these contracting companies fall outside the jurisdiction of laws in the United States. Normally, foreign nationals fall under the jurisdiction of the country in which they reside. The reason a military contractor is in a country in the first place, however, is that the government in the country is not stable, so contractors end up falling outside the jurisdiction of any government. Employees of these companies are essentially able to do whatever they please without repercussion. This is bad. Alan Grayson, founder of Grayson & Kubli, P.C., a legal firm specializing in laws governing governmental contracts, eloquently sums up the situation: "If you are a US soldier and you hurt an Iraqi civilian, and that becomes known, you will be court martialed. But if you are a US contractor, and you kill an Iraqi civilian and that becomes known, you will be sent home and then you can come back the following week, and you can work for a different contractor" (Iraq for Sale).
As of September 2007, the only American law governing the behavior of military contractors was the 2000 Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act. Section 3267 of this act declares "whoever engages in conduct outside the United States that would constitute an offense punishable by imprisonment while employed by or accompanying the Armed Forces...shall be punished as provided for that offense." At first glance, this law would appear to cover the offenses committed by employees of CACI and Titan. Later in the document, however, it is defined in section 3267: "The term 'employed by the Armed Forces outside the United States' means employed as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense… or as an employee of a Department of Defense contractor." CACI was contracted by the State Department, so it falls outside the scope of this law (Cooper). It took another incident for the US Congress and the parliament of Iraq's provisional government to wake up to the power abuses that were occurring.
The reason why a military contractor is in a country in the first place . . . is that the government in the country is not stable, so contractors end up falling outside the jurisdiction of any government.
On September 16th, 2007, Blackwater USA security forces shot at unarmed Iraqis while leaving Baghdad Square, a dangerously crowded traffic circle, according to Sudarsan Raghavan and Josh White's October 12th Washington Post article. According to two articles by Aljazeera.net, simultaneous investigations by the US State Department and the Iraqi government concluded that the shootings were unprovoked. The actions taken by the security contractor enraged the families of the victims and triggered a tipping point in the Iraqi parliament. It moved to revoke the immunity that the previous governing body, the Coalition Provision Authority, which consisted of US-appointed individuals, granted to private security firms in CPA Order Number 17. Thirteen days ago, on November 1st, 2007, the parliament drafted legislation stating that "Non-Iraqi security companies and [their] non-Iraqi employees and contractors shall be subject to the Iraqi legislations and the jurisdiction of the Iraqi judiciary in all civil and criminal cases. All immunities granted to them in accordance with any valid legislation shall be canceled." According to a CBS news report by David Martin, ratification of this law would wreak havoc on the 8,500 estimated contractors that are currently employed in Iraq. The companies are afraid that corruption in the government would lead to the arbitrary incarceration of their employees, according to Sharon Behn in The Washington Post.
David Johnston and John Broder in a November 13th Herald Tribune article report that the investigation of the September 16th incident has been complicated by the fact that the State Department offered the Blackwater employees in question immunity for their testimonies. According to Karen DeYoung's article in The Washington Post, two weeks after the incident the investigation was turned over to the FBI to avoid conflict of interest issues. Unwilling to offer the employees immunity any longer, the FBI was unable to use any information from the State Department interviews. In turn, a few of the guards no longer responded to questioning. According to DeYoung, no one knows exactly who made the decision to offer immunity to the employees. Nonetheless, the FBI's investigation concluded that at least fourteen of the seventeen murders were completely unjustified. They also found no evidence whatsoever that the security forces were fired upon (Johnston). This comes after Eric Price, founder and CEO of Blackwater, denied that his security forces committed any wrong, and that they would not have acted unless provoked.
In response, the US Congress is taking steps away from the contractors. On October 4th, 2007 the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed HR2740, the MEJA Expansion and Enforcement Act of 2007 ("H.R. 2740"). The act strips the contractors of their legal immunity in US jurisdictions and creates a new department of the FBI, the Theater Investigative Unit, which is responsible for investigating wrongdoings of contractors employed "under a contract... awarded by any [emphasis mine] department or agency of the United States, where the work under such contract is carried out in an area...where the Armed Forces is conducting a contingency operation,'" As of October 19th, it awaits ratification by the Senate and the President's signature ("H.R. 2740").
When private industry is allowed to replace military functions without an adequate oversight body or measures to ensure accountability, all hell can, and did, break loose. The government has decided to step into territory left unexplored in modern society—it has decided to fuel the rebirth of mercenary armies. Its misuse of private contractors has led to immense wastes of resources, taxpayer dollars, and unnecessary ruination and termination of the lives of both American and Iraqi people. We are taking steps to remedy the situation, but only time will tell whether these steps have come too late.
- Works Cited
- Behn, Sharon. "Blackwater Won't Allow Arrests." The Washington Post 17 Oct. 2007. 26 Nov. 2007.
- Chatterjee, Pratap. "Meet the New Interrogators: Lockheed Martin." CorpWatch. 4 Nov. 2005. 27 Nov. 2007.
- Cooper, Mary. "Privatizing the Military." CQResearcher 14.24 (2004). 19 Nov. 2007.
- Cray, Charlie. "Meet the War Profiteers." Multinational Monitor Nov. - Dec. 2006, 27: 27. 19 Nov. 2007.
- DeYoung, Karen. "Immunity Jeopardizes Iraq Probe." The Washington Post 30 Oct. 2007. 26 Nov. 2007.
- "H.R. 2740: MEJA Expansion and Enforcement Act of 2007." GovTrack.us: Tracking the U.S. Congress. 19 Nov. 2007.
- Hersh, Seymour. "Torture at Abu Ghraib." The New Yorker 10 May 2004. 19 Nov. 2007.
- "Inquiry Finds Blackwater at Fault." Aljazeera.net 7 Oct. 2007. 26 Oct. 2007.
- Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers. Dir. Robert Greenwald. Perf. Various. DVD. Brave New Films, 2006.
- Johnston, David, and John Broder. "Blackwater Guards Killed 14 Iraqis without Cause, FBI says." International Herald Tribune 13 Nov. 2007. 26 Nov. 2007.
- "Judge Allows Suit Against Military Contractor." The New York Times 7 Nov. 2007. 26 Nov. 2007.
- Martin, David. "New Law May Spell End To Iraq Contractors." CBS News 9 Nov. 2007. 26 Nov. 2007.
- Mayer, Jane. "Contract Sport." The New Yorker 16 Feb. 2004. 19 Nov. 2007.
- McKelvey, Tara. "The Unaccountables." The American Prospect Sep. 2006, 17: 44. 19 Nov. 2007.
- Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000, Pub. L. no.106-523, 114 Stat 2488 (2000).
- Office of the Press Secretary. Executive Order "Further Amendment to Executive Order 12958, As Amended, Classified National Security Information." 25 Mar. 2003. 26 Nov. 2007.
- Raghavan, Sudarsan, and Josh White. "Blackwater Guards Fired at Fleeing Cars, Soldiers Say." The Washington Post 12 Oct. 2007: A01. 26 Nov. 2007.
- Singer, Peter. "Outsourcing War." Brookings Mar.-Apr. 2005. 19 Nov. 2007.
- Taguba, Antonio M. Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade. Commissioned 31 Jan. 2004. Leaked 2 May 2004. 26 Nov. 2007.
- United States. Coalition Provisional Authority. Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 17. CPA/ORD/27, 2004. 19 Nov. 2007.
- United States Congress House of Representatives. 110th Congress, 1st session. H. R. 2740, MEJA Expansion and Enforcement Act of 2007. [Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives; 15 June 2007]. 110th Congress. Congressional Bills, GPO Access. 19 Nov. 2007.
- "US Judge Examines Liability of Private Contractors at Abu Ghraib." The Raw Story 3 Oct. 2007. 26 Nov. 2007.
- "US Official Quits over Iraq Report." Aljazeera.net 25 Oct. 2007. 26 Nov. 2007.
Writing this essay
This topic concerned me, and continues to concern me as I receive news about the crimes committed in Iraq. The internet was the catalyst for finding out about this issue. I first learned about Blackwater through two "Web 2.0" websites, both dedicated to sifting through the news: Digg.com and Reddit.com.
Dr. Rebecca Faery's 21W.730 class prepared me for writing quality work and for critically analyzing the status quo. Dr. Faery familiarized me with the method of continual revision, a critical, constructive approach to improving a work in increments, as opposed to attempting a perfect work in one go.