Blackwater scandal in Iraq, November 2009: should we ever rely on mercenaries?

Lessons from the Blackwater scandal

By Caspar ten Dam, Chairperson ICHI

Though firmly based on ICHI’s goal and foundation declarations, the particular preferences expressed in this article are the author’s

“It was a deadly concoction: cascades of money, high-powered weapons, legal indemnity, a war against a ruthless and culturally alien enemy, and a kill-or-be-killed culture inculcated over years steeped in the warrior culture of the barracks”

John F. Burns, ‘Q and A: Private Military Contractors’ – At War Blog New York Times 19 October 2009.

Abbreviations of relevant terms:
IPOA: International Peace Operations Association
MEJA: Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act
PMC(s): Private Military Company(companies)
ROE(s): Rules of Engagement

Introduction

The American occupation of Iraq hardly qualifies as a proper, full example of humanitarian intervention. Even so, the so-called ‘Blackwater scandal’ described below compels us to revisit our proposition in our article ‘Mercenaries: Deploy or Avoid?’ (April 2005) that mercenaries could be relied upon to rescue defenceless people.

Blackwater’s callousness, if typical of other Private Military Companies (PMCs), undermines this proposition. Despite the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA) established in April 2001 to self-regulate and improve the image of the industry, ‘private military firms’ often “walk a fine line of legality, with potentially illegitimate clients, business practices, and employees with dark pasts”.[1]

However, helping defenceless people or rebels to help these people without UN or state approval already walks a ‘fine line of legality’ in current international law. For us the primary question is whether using mercenaries is effective and just, not whether it is presently legal.

For an updated February 2010 version of this article, see BlackwaterCtenDam2010.pdf

Background report on the Darfur conflict, October 2005

DARFUR REPORT

By Caspar ten Dam, chairman PCSM

The report does not elaborate on measures by the international community or on scenarios of humanitarian intervention. The August 2006 pamphlet Unseat the ‘Mounted Devils’ takes up these matters.

“humanitarian assistance can never be a substitute for effective political and military action”
– Caroline Moorehead on Darfur in the New York Review of Books of 11 August 2005

We should have intervened in the western region of Darfur in Sudan, in 2004 or even earlier. Since March 2003 Arabic-nomadic militia’s of the Janjaweed (“mounted devils”) have, with government support, killed more than 180,000 civilians – not counting the 400,000 people who have died of injuries, hunger, malnutrition and lack of shelter. The Janjaweed is a collective noun for the some 20,000 bandits and militia-members who primarily travel and attack on camels and horses, and have been recruited by the fundamentalist regime in Khartoum in order to commit the said crimes. Some sources speak of a mere 5,000 Janjaweed, yet this seems unlikely given the large-scale human rights violations and the immense area in which they take place.

See further (with a January 2006 update): ICHIDarfurreport2006.pdf

April 2005: article ‘Mercenaries: Deploy or Avoid?’

This committee is of the opinion, as indicated in our basic and goal declarations, that under different circumstances different kinds of humanitarian intervention are possible and necessary.

Different actors may take the initiative and the lead: the United Nations or other international organisations, NATO or other security organisations, one or more states in a ‘coalition of the willing’, or one or more non-state organisations made up of volunteers, rebels or mercenaries.

Combinations of these actors are conceivable – and have occurred in practice – who may operate jointly and simultaneously or relieve each other before, during and after an intervention.

Here we focus on the most controversial actor within the ‘non-state’ option: mercenaries Employing and deploying mercenaries and private military companies (PMC’s) like Executive Outcomes (EO) and Sandline International (which apparently ceased to be active since April 2004) can be risky given their commercial motives and often dubious backgrounds.

On the other hand: these ‘private militaries’ have saved many lives. Thus PMC’s like EO have played stabilising roles in armed conflicts like those in Angola and Sierra Leone during the 90s, by defeating or at least temporarily curtailing the often very brutal rebel movements there.

See further DeclICHImercenaries2005.pdf