Posted by Chris at 10/12/2007 5:41 PM
I've kept quiet about all of the debate about Blackwater over the past few weeks because I didn't have much to add to the conversation. I've had questions about Blackwater for at least two years. Like many others, I think we need to carefully examine what private military contractors are doing, what their rules of engagement are, what weapons they can use, and what chain of command they operate under. Freeing them from prosecution for crimes in Iraq and under the UCMJ was exactly the wrong way to handle the issue - with so little evident oversight, there is no wonder that there is a problem. Even if PMCs go to Iraq with the best intentions, the stresses of the environment are such that at least some of them will make mistakes (I'm going with the Heinlein rule, here).
Today, there are two items to consider: Lt. Col. Bob Bateman has an op-ed describing one of his encounters with Blackwater in Baghdad when he was there as a Major, and a Newsweek article discussing other allegations against Blackwater, including refusal to follow U.S. Marine Corps requests regarding weapons safety when in a base post office. I trust Lt. Col. Bateman's insights on these and other matters, so I heartily recommend everyone check out his work. I'm waiting for his book No Gun Ri: A Military History of the Korean War Incident
I don't have a solution for these problems. Obviously, the first is to ensure that Blackwater and other security contractors are subject to criminal and civil penalties in Iraq and the United States. One of the basic guidelines for fighting an insurgency is that your personnel have to obey the law. Not doing so pushes the local populace to the enemy. Since Blackwater and friends are Americans, we get the blame for any of their misdeeds, real or imagined. Since they are in Iraq as part of the 2003 invasion, as citizens of the United States, we are responsible for the actions they take in our name. Ensuring that PMCs that break the law are prosecuted for crimes is the only thing we can do to redeem our national honor in this respect.
A second step is obviously a centralized command authority over all security contractors operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. Someone has to be responsible for these folks. That means the DoD has to be in charge, and other organizations don't provide their own security arrangements. Sorry, State Department, you don't get to hire your own guns when they jeopardize the greater mission. We can't have people with weapons running around Iraq unless they are dedicated to the mission of nation building. People with a different mission will only end up causing additional problems for our forces and for regular Iraqis.
My personal preference would be that the only people with weapons be actually military personnel, and that the only contrators be in non-security roles, but the security industry has enough politcal clout that it won't happen. Regardless, we need to find a better way to manage how security contractors operate.