Contract soldiers have been used by nations and states since early history. Ancient kings would contract knights to fight with those loyal to them, warlords made pacts with neighboring states and paid for the services of their soldiers, the Hessians, who fought for the British in the Revolutionary War, were German mercenaries. It is a tradition to hire out the security of a nation when its force is inadequate.
In the second Gulf War and Afghanistan, the United States and private interests have hired security companies to work in combat zones. The duties of these private soldiers include "services such as information technology and equipment maintenance, operational support such as facilities management and logistics, and actual armed 'security' in conflict zones" (Perlo-Freeman & Skons). Unfortunately, the use of these security firms has caused some legal problems, and it is difficult for the U.S. court system to deal with soldiers who are not actually military personnel. It is a fact that national security contracting in the United States is here to stay. The problem is how to reform and regulate this area of national security taking into account national constraints stemming from the jurisdictional tension between the private and the public sectors (U.S. Government).
In 2008, a case was brought before a U.S. district court. The hearing involved members of a private security firm, Blackwater, who had been tasked with providing a secure evacuation route for a group of U.S. officials the previous year while in Baghdad. The route was required because an explosive device had exploded nearby. "Soon after the Raven 23 vehicles entered the traffic circle, a shooting incident erupted, during which the defendants allegedly shot and killed fourteen persons and wounded twenty others" (U.S. v Slough). The security force believed that they had made "a legitimate response to a mortal threat" (U.S. v Slough), but the U.S. government contended that the killed and wounded were civilian casualties. The security force argued that they had been compelled to make personally damaging statements during the subsequent interrogations. The court found that the five members of the team who came under indictment were compelled to give testimony that could have been personally damaging under the threat of termination from Blackwater (U.S. v Slough).
The evidence seemed to be overwhelming that the contracted personnel had fired on civilians, but the case was thrown out by the U.S. district court because of tainted interrogations and witness testimony. The investigators were overly zealous because the situation in Iraq was incredibly tense, and the ill-advised actions of a security team had made the state of affairs even more untenable.
The main question that comes from such a case is if the personnel were guilty of a crime, why were procedures not in place that would have streamlined the investigations and resulted in just convictions? Instead, the original investigators had to be removed and two grand juries had to be convened (U.S. v Slough). Despite these precautions, new evidence was still deemed tainted. Either procedures should have been in place or these civilian forces should not have been utilized.
However, as mentioned in the introduction, the security forces are here to stay. Perlo-Freeman and Skons relate that;
"Two trends led to the creation of the military services industry. The first was the large supply of discharged military personnel after the end of the cold war and the widespread demand for these personnel from both weak states facing internal conflicts and non-state actors operating in conflict zones. The second trend was the increased privatization and outsourcing by the governments in advanced market economies of a wide range of functions that were previously carried out by military forces or defence ministries."
For many years it has been noted that the U.S. military does not have the personnel available to be engaged in conflicts on multiple fronts. But, with current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and possible future necessity for armed conflict in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere, it is imperative that such companies remain available. "Contracting out areas of work seen as non-core can give militaries a higher 'tooth-to-tail' ratio with more soldiers able to engage in operational activity" (Perlo-Freeman & Skons).
Besides the stated military assistance that these firms provide, they can be used as personal security, in high-risk zones, for private companies. "[T]he use of contracted armed security is…a reality for the international humanitarian community. No major humanitarian provider -- UN, NGO or Red Cross -- can claim that it has never paid for armed security" (Stoddard, Harmer & DiDomenico). Humanitarian aide is required by citizens in war-torn areas of the world. Because these areas are inherently dangerous, these people sometimes require armed security. A group of doctors and nurses, who had been on the ground in Afghanistan, off and on, for many years, were recently killed because of their nationalities. This incident proves the need for armed, private security forces. But, they cannot go unchecked.
As recently as 2008, there were over 100,000 "civilian contractors…in Iraq alone" (Addicott). The U.S. military in these areas is guided by strict military law and ethical training, but the civilian security contractors often have no such concerns. However;
"Because military operations give rise to their fair share of untoward activities caused by negligent or intentional acts, including wrongful deaths and accidents, it is not surprising that during the War on Terror parent contracting companies have faced a number of civil law suits emanating from their civilian employees, other contractors, military personnel, and host nation foreigners" (Addicott)
These law suits have had a variety of outcomes, but since the security personnel are often contracted by the Department of Defense (DoD) they often expect to have the same protections as the military. This has been the case at times, depending on the charges (Stoddard, Harmer & DiDomenico), but not always. This is because "Contractors employed to perform security functions for DoD are only a fraction of the total private security sector, both public, private, and international (Commission on wartime Contracting). Addicott (2008) does mention though that "No contracting company has yet been held liable for torts committed in the War on Terror, a handful of civil actions are meandering through the judicial system and provide a sense of how the political question doctrine is being developed." So, there have not been any unjust convictions based on civilian law, but there is also the feeling (from the word meandering) that there is not a clear vision yet regarding how to handle criminal situations among these companies.
It is the feeling of some groups, that these companies should be not be governed by any national law. They are engaged in security practices that most often happen outside if the U.S., so how can they be bound by United States law? One suggestion is that "any further development of policies on private security use would need to be part of a UN-wide security initiative" (Stoddard, Harmer & DiDomenico). The fact is that the security forces do not follow any certain international rule that has been invented either, so it is difficult to know what should happen with these personnel.
Security companies have a very difficult job. First, they are in a business which has become very competitive. To get the contracts that they need to stay in business, they have cut corners in the past. This is an issue when the personnel from these countries are in the field and they are either improperly supplied or trained. Either eventuality will cause a breakdown in the effectiveness of the team, but negligent training practices could cause people their lives. Companies should not have to worry about making the lowest bid because by doing so in this industry security is often compromised.
When a U.S. military base is guarded by civilian personnel who have not been through a vetting process, there are concerns about the management of that company (Commission on Wartime Contracting). Although security of armed service personnel is usually handled by the military itself, there are times when this duty is contracted to a private security firm. However, the people employed in this exercise have not always gone through the intensive background checks that such employment demands. Security companies have to be able to provide the contracting agency with the peace of mind and security that they are paying for. A security company should not be the cause of increased worry.
Of course, the main danger is that such companies will become powerful enough that they not only supply military-style security, but they also delve into policy making. allowing these companies to become too powerful could be dangerous. A part of an regulation plan must include provisions for dismantling an organization that thinks it is above the law. A popular saying is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Allowing these companies to have too much power and no regulation by international governing bodies could spell disaster.
Private security companies are necessary and they are going to be…