by Jose Gomez
The mercenaries or the corsairs of the XXI Century?
Mon Jul 3, 2006 22:38

The mercenaries or the corsairs of the XXI Century?

by Jose Gomez
July 01, 2006

The 25 000 private security contractors presently
working in Iraq constitute, after the United States
Army, the largest force of occupation well before the
British Army. These private security companies with
over 420 deaths and some 4 000 injured, according to
the USA Department of Labor, also yield the highest
number of casualties with the exception of the US Army
which has already reached over 2 500 deaths and more
than 18 000 injuries.

According to a report emanating from the USA Government
Accountability Office, contracts for over $ 766 million
have been awarded to private security companies in
Iraq. Criticisms have been raised pointing out that, on
the basis of such contracts, unethical mercenaries are
being recruited complicating the reconstruction
undertaken by the Coalition and receiving sometimes
salaries up to several thousand dollars daily. In
addition, these companies are accused of fraud and of
overt confrontations with the US Army under which they
should operate.

With the globalisation of the economy, the use of force
has become another business to be privatized. The
privatized military and security industry which was
estimated, in 1990, at $ 33 billion, reached in 2006
some $ 100 billion and will reach probably over $ 200
billion in 2010. During the first Gulf War, in the
1990's, one out of every 100 soldiers was a private
contractor. A few years later, during the former
Yugoslavia's wars the rate was one of every 50 and
presently it is one out of every ten. The armed
conflicts in former Yugoslavia, Angola, Colombia and
Sierra Leone, among others, have favoured the expansion
of such private companies. But it has been the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq and the instability that followed
in the post war period in those two countries which has
been the driving force in the extension and
multiplication of the private military and security
industry. It is also in those two countries where the
limits of the grey zone, where these companies operate,
which very easily becomes blurred: security activities
and human rights violations are often inextricably

The thousands of armed contractors operating in Iraq
represent one of the major problems in the
reconstruction of the country for they carry out their
activities without any control or accountability. Their
behaviour is often similar to those of the employees of
CACI and Titan working in the prison of Abu Ghraib.
These two USA private security companies have been
allegedly implicated in the 2004 human rights
violations. The report of USA General Antonio Taguba
indicates that two CACI employees were directly or
indirectly implicated in the use of dogs on prisoners,
forced sexual abuses and other types of violations
perpetrated on prisoners. Another report suggests that
one of the 27 employees of CACI working for the USA
Army in Iraq knew pertinently that the instructions he
was giving to the soldiers interrogating the prisoners
was a form of torture. CACI sources argue that their
personnel were at all times performing under military
instructions. According to Titan their employees are
translators and interpreters working for the USA Army
and they were not implicated in the tortures committed
on prisoners. The inquiries carried out to establish
the implication of both of these two companies in the
crimes committed in Abu Ghraib has not prevented the
USA Government from renewing their contracts: one of
some $ 15 million to CACI under which it will provide
interrogating services with a view to obtaining
information in Iraq and the other of $ 400 million to
Titan to recruit more translators.

At the time of the incidents in Abu Ghraib, the United
States Government as Occupying Power had jurisdiction
in Iraq. The fact that the human rights violations were
allegedly perpetrated by employees of private security
companies, such as CACI and Titan, does not exempt the
USA Government of its obligations according to
international human rights and international
humanitarian law. However, contrary to the comments
made by the US authorities to United Nations affirming
that "contract personnel of the US are under the
direction of the Coalition and are subject to criminal
jurisdiction in US Federal Courts", not one single
civil employee allegedly implicated in the abuses
perpetrated in Abu Ghraib has been investigated
impartially by a US Federal Court or has been legally

In the presentation of the 2006 Amnesty International
report in Washington, the USA Director emphasized that
United States were creating the equivalent of
Guantanamo "- a virtual rule free zone in which
perpetrators are not likely to be held accountable for
breaking the law". He said that "business outsourcing
may increase efficiency, but war outsourcing may
facilitate impunity". He added that "illegal behavior
of contractors and of those who designed and carried
out U.S. torture policies and the reluctance of the
government to bring perpetrators to justice are
tarnishing the reputation of the United States, hurting
the image of American troops and contributing to anti-
American sentiment". According to Amnesty
International, out of 20 known cases of civilians
suspected of criminal acts, there has only been the
indictment of one contractor on assault charges in
connection with the death of a detainee in Afghanistan:
there has not been a single prosecution of a private
military contractor in Iraq.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, in view
of the growth of these private military and security
companies, has decided to examine the activities of
these non state actors and how to relate with them in a
more systematic approach, focusing on the companies
operating in situations of armed conflict or those
which provide training and advice to armed forces. In
addition, the Committee maintains a dialogue with the
authority which contracts the company and with the
state of origin.

Alarm has also been voiced by the Council of Europe. In
view of the growing concern in Member States in the
increase and use of private security services which in
a number of states exceeds the number of police forces,
in 2005 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of
Europe adopted a recommendation entitled "Democratic
oversight of the security sector in member states".
This recommendation underlines that "from being rather
limited in scope and action, private security services
are increasingly moving into areas which traditionally
have been reserved for the public police". It also
draws attention that "ensuring security in society
through the rule of law is a fundamental mission of
public authorities". And while recognizing that
security services may make a useful contribution "the
lack of public control over these services, the scope
of their activities and the professional conduct of
their staff might well endanger the protection of human
rights and fundamental freedoms". The recommendation
also underlines that "national regulations developed by
member states on this issue vary greatly and in some
member states such regulation is non-existent".

The mass media is increasingly interested in the
activities of these private security companies
particularly those operating in Iraq. The Suisse
Romande TV disseminated, in March 2004, a program in
which private contractors are seen actively
participating in direct combat. CNN, on 13 June 2006,
also devoted a program on the activities of those
companies. It reproduced a video in which someone was
filming from the interior of an armed vehicle going
through the streets of Baghdad. From the vehicle a
rifle is shooting at another vehicle, a Mercedes,
behind it. The impacts of the bullets hit the Mercedes
which bumps into a taxi parked on one side of the
street. People come out from the taxi but nobody from
the Mercedes indicating that the persons in that car
have been injured or killed. According to CNN the
persons traveling in the armed vehicle worked for a
private security company named Aegis. It is well known
to everybody that the personnel in the vehicles of
those companies, when they travel through the streets
of Baghdad or any other Iraqi city, being afraid of
being attacked, shoot indiscriminately right and left
to avoid any car approaching them.

It seems that Aegis carried out an investigation about
the incident but its conclusions are confidential. A
USA Army inquiry says that probably it would not be
indication of a crime having been committed. CNN tried
a number of times to interview without success the
person who created Aegis, Tim Spicer, who told the
channel that he "had not the intention of responding
but that wished to inform that the contract to Aegis
had been extended for a consecutive third year". The
contract to which he referred totals some $293 million
and is considered one of the most important awarded by
the Pentagon to a private security company. Tim Spicer,
former Colonel of the British Scots Guards, is the same
person that survived allegations involving him in
several international scandals. In 1997, he was
contracted by the Government of Papua New Guinea in
order to recapture the Island of Bougainville in the
hands of separatists. And in 1998, in Sierra Leone in a
scandal of illicit arms being exported to both parties
in the conflict breaking the UN embargo, a scandal
which endangered the survival of the then British
Foreign Office Secretary.

Aegis is one of the many private security companies
which present themselves as peace and security builders
and which forms part of the International Peace
Operations Association (IOPA), a very active lobby in
Washington which strives to obtain respectability and
legitimacy at the international level.

The use of mercenaries has been a historical constant
till almost the end of the XX Century, when their
activities were criminalized by the international
community. Parallel to that phenomenon, governments
authorized, since the XIII Century, two other forms of
non state violence: the corsairs and the merchant
companies such as the East India Company or the Hudson
Bay Company. What is the difference between the private
security companies and the mercenaries? In the same way
as the corsairs differentiated themselves from the
pirates because the former were authorized by the
governments and the latter not, for they only pursued
their own interests, the private security companies, by
the fact of being registered and paying an annual tax
to the government, cease to be considered mercenaries.
When they contract these private military and security
companies, the USA and British governments, among
others, avoid parliamentary controls and at the same
time can be present in armed conflicts where they have
interests or wish to intervene deploying private
companies as auxiliaries. These companies thus
constitute an element of their foreign policy.

Some of the activities of the private military and
security companies, with President's Bush doctrine of
preventive war, constitute another weakening factor of
the collective security system established in 1945 with
the adoption of the UN Charter. This Organization, in
the framework of its Human Rights Commission which in
2006, after the adoption by the General Assembly, has
become the Human Rights Council, an organ with more
prerogatives, has drawn the attention of Member States
to the activities of these private military and
security companies operating at the international level
through the reports of the Special Rapporteur or the
now Working Group on Mercenaries. Reports that
unfortunately up to present have had little impact in
Western countries, from where these companies mainly
operate. It is to be hoped that Member States will soon
consider seriously to what extent the use of force can
be privatized.

"No sage or savior has ever endorsed greed and gluttony as a path toward social justice or personal fulfillment. These sane and enlightened people come to us from all cultures and all eras, sometimes knowing of each other but more often not. Socrates and Jesus, Lao Tzu and Tolstoi, Gandhi and Martin Buber -- no one can find in their lives and words a jot of support for a political and economic regime that encourages the acquisition of wealth far beyond what is needed for the necessaries -- or even the restorative pleasures -- of life while consigning the masses to live and work in squalor."
-Stephen J. Fortunato, Associate Justice, Rhode Island Supreme Court.

"Music is prophecy, its style and economic organization are ahead of the rest of society. It makes audible the new world that will gradually become visible."
-Jacques Attali in his seminal text "Noise"

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