An article published last week, “The uses of an extra-jurisdictional army,” argued for wider use of private military groups like Xe (formerly known as Blackwater). While I agree that unacceptable violence against civilians occurs worldwide every day, mercenaries are not the answer. Relying on private military contractors, or PMCs, will only put more lives at risk, tarnish The United States’ image and add an unaccountable wildcard to the geopolitical stage.It’s true that PMCs, such as Xe, have been hired by the U.S. military in the past. But the result of that relationship was astounding numbers of civilian casualties.
In May 2007, Xe employees shot an Iraqi civilian who was “driving too close” to them. In February 2006, a Xe sniper killed three guards on the roof of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. Later that year, a drunken mercenary gunned down an Iraqi security guard. And perhaps the most heinous case: In February 2005, Xe soldiers escorting a convoy fired 70 bullets into a passing car without justification. They claimed to be reacting to insurgent gunfire and cited bullet holes in their vehicles as evidence. But when the State Department investigated, they found that the mercenaries had fired into their own car afterward to cover their mistake. And because the Defense Department covered for Xe, in most of these cases the mercenaries responsible faced no penalty.
The reason Xe no longer operates in the Iraq conflict is that the Iraqi government kicked them out of the country in 2009 — and with a record like Xe’s, who can blame them?
Xe may be able to escape legal punishment for their actions, and they may escape blame by changing their name, but somebody does take the hit for them: The U.S.
While Xe was working for the U.S., every occasion in which a mercenary took an innocent life reflected badly on the U.S.’s image as a whole. The Iraqi citizen who just lost his brother due to careless gunfire isn’t going to isolate his blame to the Xe or Greystone, he’s going to blame America as a whole. And now that he has this vendetta, imagine how tempting joining a terrorist organization looks.
The Taliban and other groups already try to win over locals by uniting them against the U.S., and Xe’s carelessness gives them the perfect recruiting material. Using private military contractors just might turn America into that “evil oppressor” a significant part of the world already believes us to be.
The problem with a private military is lack of accountability. The U.S. Government holds its military to certain standards of conduct, such as the rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention, which prevent U.S. soldiers from using lethal force unless they are absolutely sure it’s necessary. These standards are what separate our military from forces like Mexican drug lords or the Taliban.
We value life, and we do not take it needlessly. PMCs are, by definition, not held to these standards, and the results speak for themselves. As Xe/Blackwater shows U.S. when private militaries can act recklessly without fear of litigation they shoot first and ask questions later. And really, why would PMCs act with restraint if they aren’t held responsible for their actions?
Which brings me to my last point: PMCs are not accountable to any government, so they can be on “a different team every week,” as the author of the article put it. He lists the U.S., Israel and Mexico as possible teams, but why stop there?
Mercenaries can also help the Sudanese commit genocide in Darfur, help Russia invade more border nations like Georgia or even provide Mexican drug lords with bodyguards.
When military superiority is for sale, it is naïve to think America’s allies will be the only buyers. And in a world where private military contractors are commonplace, it’s only a matter of time before one of them sells out to the bad guys.