The use of private contractors to assist the U.S. military forces in times of conflict is not a new concept. According to author Gordon Campbell, Washington has "always" used contractors in times of war. There are many contemporary issues and potential problems when the U.S. military signs deals with private contractors, as it did in Iraq and is currently doing in Afghanistan. The main issue revolves around the concept of hiring 180,000 private contractors to support and in some cases substitute for U.S. service personnel in the war zone that was Iraq and is today Afghanistan. Is the hiring ethical, is it practical, and does it help the war effort? This paper reviews those issues and provides perspective from both sides of the issue using the available literature on this topic.
The Ethics of Paying Civilians to Enter Harm's way
The American military hired private contractors to pull wagons to haul supplies for Union Troops during the U.S. Civil War, and during World War II there were private civilian contractors providing a number of services, Campbell explains. And during the Vietnam conflict contractors were "…becoming a major part of logistical capabilities" by providing water and ground transportation, construction, by supplying oil and gasoline along with high-level technologies (Campbell, 2000, p. 2). And more recently, during the gulf war, about 5,000 civilians hired by the U.S. government were on hand to provide certain kinds of support, and in addition 9,200 employees were hired by private contractors, providing logistical support along with water and food and construction services (Campbell, p. 2).
After reviewing the history of private contractors as hired hands in U.S. military engagements, Campbell raises ethical questions about private contractors. Should contractors be armed? What are the rules of engagement for contractors? These are other questions are salient to this issue, and Campbell offers his perspective.
The U.S. soldier is trained not only to kill the enemy but also to support their fellow soldiers. There is a sense of "reliance and trust" created between trained soldiers in battle, but is that same reliance and trust part of the relationship between a private contractor and a U.S. Marine? Certainly not, Campbell explains. And moreover, when a contractor is seriously injured or even killed due to "ineptitude," that could in fact put a mission "at risk and get soldiers killed" (Campbell, p. 4). Campbell makes a strategic point here: a battlefield soldier is trained to protect himself and his military colleagues. The most a contractor can do "..is protect himself" because he can't protect "his buddies…his operation, equipment…or position" -- because if he does try to protect his operation with lethal force he then becomes "an illegal belligerent" who has forfeited his rights and privileges of POW status, should he be captured (Campbell, 4).
At least two serious potential problems are present when a contractor is in the field of battle. One potential problem is that there could conceivably be a conflict between the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which all uniformed military personnel are obliged to follow, and the Government Contract Law, which covers employees who are not soldiers and are not government employees (they are separate contractors). The contractor can only be directed by the "Contracting Officer" under the Terms and Conditions of the contract. Any performance issue relating to the behavior of the employees working for the Contracting Officer is in the hands of the Contracting Officer, Campbell continues on page 6.
But now, adding to the mix involving the UCMJ, will there be a conflict when a military officer makes demands on the contractor's employees? What if a military officer, while under fire from enemy troops, gives orders to the contract employees, and there are injuries sustained by the contract employees? Who wins in a legal battle later? Campbell explains that indeed the Government will likely lose in later litigation. There will be no "extension of UCMJ authority" to non-military actors (contracting employees) because unless there is a specific "Declared War," there will always be the separation of power between military personnel and private contractors (Campbell, p. 7).
Campbell asserts that ethics is involved in these matters: "Ethics demands that contractors and their employees understand what they are signing up to do"; ethics demands that private contractors be trained properly to "…accomplish their tasks in hostile environments" so as not to put military personnel at risk (8). If the policies that sent civilian contractors into harm's way are driven by money, "…Ethics requires us to examine the worst cast scenario" (Campbell, p. 8). And in his conclusion, Campbell insists that "Ethics would also seem to demand the military retain core levels of all capabilities necessary to enable it to fulfill the strategic and contingency plans prepared by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff" (p. 8). In other words, it would be more ethical to have uniformed troops perform as many duties as possible, in order to avoid the "…ethical dilemma of placing civilians in harm's way.." (Campbell, p. 8).
Ethical Standards with reference to Hired Professional Contractors in Iraq
On the subject of ethics, Joanne Myers, PR Director with the Carnegie Council, explains that "…some of the most disturbing news" coming from the war in Iraq in 2005 was created not by the U.S. military, but by "private military contractors" (Singer, et al., 2005, p. 1). What troubles Myers initially is the "entrance of the profit motive onto the battlefield" -- which raises a pertinent question in Myers' mind: what ethical standards should be applied "…when our national security is at issue and people's lives are constantly put at risk" (p. 1).
Myers and author P.W. Singer both share serious concerns about paying billions in taxpayer dollars for a private military force that seemed to act on its own in Iraq. Singer, a Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies program at the Brookings Institution, who authored the book, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, is concerned that because private military forces are available, "…any actor in the global system can access these skills and functions simply by writing a check" (p. 2). That fact presents "an amazing dilemma," Singer continues. He sees the fact that there are an estimated "…550 million small arms in the global market, one for every twelve human beings" (p. 2). With so many weapons (Singer asserts that a person can by an AK-47 for the "price of a goat" in Kenya and in Uganda an AK-47 goes for the "price of a rooster") available, the possibility of violence against innocents is greatly increased as those small arms are "another addition to the demand side in terms of threats produced" (p. 2).
Purchasing private military forces, as the U.S. did in Iraq, is not cheap. The KBR Division of Halliburton (former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton before ascending to office in 2000) was paid between $13-16 billion for its services during the Iraq war (Singer, p. 3). The money paid to Halliburton for its military support is two and a half times what it cost U.S. taxpayers to fight "the entire 1991 Gulf War" (Singer, p. 3). On the subject of Halliburton, Singer asserts that according to the U.S. Army, about $1.8 billion paid to Halliburton is either unaccounted for or in fact Halliburton simply "over-billed" the taxpayers by $1.8 billion. Either way, it is a terrible waste of revenue paid to a company that had very close ties to the vice president of the country at that time.
In Iraq at the time this article was published (2005) there were "more than eighty private military companies operating on the ground," Singer continues on p. 4. In fact at that time over 20,000 private military contractors were on the ground in Iraq, which is more men with weapons than "the rest of the coalition combined," Singer explains (p. 4).
What is truly worrisome to Singer is the fact that the private security companies paid to support U.S. troop activities in Iraq have been involved "…in many of the most controversial aspects of the war… [including] the incidents at Fallujah and the uprising that followed…" and the tragedy of the Blackwater employees killed in Fallujah. Those disturbing images that got on the Internet from the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib -- of U.S. personnel torturing prisoners using the most inhumane strategies imaginable -- resulted from the vicious abuses at least partially perpetrated by private security firms, Singer writes (p. 4). One hundred percent of the interpreters and as many as fifty percent of "interrogators" were private military contractors at the Abu Ghraib prison, Singer reports (p. 4).
Moreover, in its investigation of those heinous abuses the U.S. Army determined that "…36% of the identified abuse incidents involved private military contractors"; in addition, the Army learned that "…six private military contractors" were "individually responsible up to a potentially criminal level" (Singer, p. 4). That said, none of those private contractor individuals has been "…prosecuted,…