I’ve long been fascinated by the role private security contractors like Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp play in Iraq. Here’s a whole class of heavily armed people wandering around the country accountable to, well, their consciences, I guess. The Wash Post has a fascinating bit about Blackwater today. Best part:
To a large degree, the companies regulate themselves. Lawrence T. Peter, director of the Private Security Company Association of Iraq, which represents at least 50 security companies, also serves as a $40-per-hour consultant on security issues to the Pentagon‘s Defense Reconstruction Support Office, which issues contracts.
Peter, during an interview in Baghdad, said that while serving as an adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority he wrote the initial drafts of Memorandum 17, dated June 26, 2004, which established operating guidelines for security companies and remains “the extant law for private security contractors in Iraq.”
The rules on use of force are introduced in capital letters with the statement: “NOTHING IN THESE RULES LIMITS YOUR INHERENT RIGHT TO TAKE ACTION NECESSARY TO DEFEND YOURSELF.”
A separate document, CPA Order 17, dated June 27, 2004, granted the private security companies immunity from Iraqi law.
Over the past year, the military has issued a series of “fragos,” or fragmentary orders, designed to impose greater accountability on security contractors operating under Defense Department contracts. Blackwater was not covered because it reported to the State Department.
The new rules included procedures for the registration of weapons and streamlined the reporting of shooting incidents. The U.S. military’s director of security for the Green Zone, where approximately three dozen private security firms are based, has conducted sweeps that netted hundreds of unauthorized weapons.
None of the new orders applied to Blackwater, which has received $678 million in State Department contracts since 2003 and operates under the department’s authority.
“I’m not gonna go chasing after non-DoD organizations, going, ‘Uh, you didn’t submit an incident report for this,’ ” said Maj. Kent Lightner of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who monitors shooting incidents involving private security contractors under Defense Department contracts.
Um, actually, doesn’t it seem like the very definition of the job of someone who “monitors shooting incidents involving private contractors” is to get those incident reports? UPDATE: See Lightner’s response in comments below. Clearly, this isn’t a simple issue, and I apologize for my somewhat flip comment.
Still, if you’re going to read just one story about private contractors in Iraq, don’t. Instead, listen to this fantastic bit by Nancy Updike, called “I’m from the Private Sector and I’m Here to Help,” produced for This American Life in 2004. It’s at the same time the best thing done on contractors and the best thing ever on TAL.