12. Military in Iraq Contracts Human Rights Violators

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Sources:Mother Jones, November/December 2004, Title: “Dirty Warriors: How South African Hitmen, Serbian Paramilitaries, and Other Human Rights Violators Became Guns for Hire for Military Contractors in Iraq,” Author: Barry Yeoman, http://www.corpwatch.org, March 7, 2005, Title: “Intelligence, Inc.,” Author: Pratap Chatterjee,http://www.law.com, May 11, 2004, Title: “Untested Law Key in Iraqi Abuse Scandal,” Author: Jonathan Groner

Faculty Evaluator: Rick Williams, JD
Student Researcher: Danielle Hallstein

The United States government is contracting private firms to recruit, hire, and train civilians to perform duties normally done by military personnel. These corporate employees are sent to fill empty positions as prison guards, military police, and interrogators at United States military bases worldwide, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba. Independent of the United States military, these employees are not held accountable by military law. Many of the recruits are citizens with prior experience as policemen or soldiers. However, a number of the employees have backgrounds as mercenaries and soldiers who fought for repressive regimes throughout the world, such as in South Africa, Chile, and Yugoslavia. Employees from some of these firms have recently been indicated in prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The Pentagon claims that it can no longer fight the war on terror without enlisting the help of private contractors. The reason for this inability is that the number of active troops in the United States military has dropped from 2.1 million to 1.4 million since the end of the Cold War. This puts a lot of pressure on companies to fill positions as quickly as possible. One negative consequence of this rushed hiring is the lack of in-depth background checks on applicants. Many recruits have been implicated in past human rights violations, including torture and killing. One of these ex-soldier-turned-United States employees was Gary Branfield, who was killed in a firefight with Iraqi soldiers in the spring of 2004. In the 1980s he was a covert operations specialist working for the South African apartheid government. Branfield’s mission was to track down and assassinate members of the African National Congress living outside of South Africa. Mysteriously, this information failed to appear during background checks performed by Branfield’s employer, Hart Group. Hart Group has been hired by the United States to guard Iraqi energy facilities and to protect the engineers rebuilding Iraq’s electricity network. Retired justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa Richard Goldstone comments, “The mercenaries we’re talking about worked for security forces that were synonymous with murder and torture.”

The Titan Corporation, which claims to provide “comprehensive information and communications products, solutions, and services for National Security” (http://www.corpwatch.org), has a contract with the U.S. to supply translators for the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. A 2004 military investigation into prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib concluded that “Titan employees actively participated in detainee abuse, including assault and possibly rape” (Mother Jones, 2004). However, the only legal action taken against Titan as of yet is in the U.S. district court for the Southern district of California, where the Abu Ghraib prisoners have filed a class action suit against the employees of Titan. Employees of California Analysis Center Incorporated (CACI) were also found to have participated in the abuse. Plaintiffs in this suit are demanding a jury trial, but the process is moving slowly. Jeffrey Ellefante, executive vice president at CACI, says that CACI has yet to be informed of the specific accusations against its employees. Oddly enough, the soldiers implicated in the abuse have already been court martialed under the Military Code of Conduct.

So why is there a discrepancy between the punishment of soldiers and that of independent employees for the same crime? The answer is legal ramifications. While United States military personnel are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, independent contractors working through the Pentagon as civilians are not. Because of this, Congress passed the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) in 2000 to enable the prosecution of civilians “employed by or accompanying U.S. armed forces” (http://www.law.com). Unfortunately, MEJA can only be applied to civilian employees who are contracted through the Department of Defense (DOD), and to crimes committed overseas that would merit a minimum one-year sentence under Federal law. Currently there is an investigation into the deaths of Iraqi prisoners after having been questioned by private interrogators hired by the CIA. If found guilty, these interrogators may be let off on a technicality because they work for the CIA, not the DOD, like MEJA requires.

This begs the question, under whose jurisdiction do these crimes fall? In an attempt to answer this, the Defense Department proposed new regulation earlier this year that “would require DOD contractors to make sure their employees comply with the Uniform Code of Military Justice where applicable” (http://www.law.com.) Debate over this proposal will open on May 24, 2005. Critic Daniel Guttman, fellow at John Hopkins University, questions the “where applicable” phrase saying, “it says the Uniform Code applies where applicable, but when is that?…They seem to be making policy on the run” (http://www.law.com). As for now, the Pentagon claims that it, “is not in the business of policing contractors’ hiring practices,” therefore it may take many more cases like Abu Ghraib before the U.S. government steps in to regulate the unlimited power that these private contractors are brandishing.

Update by Barry Yeoman: This was the first major article to systemically link the issues of military privatization with human rights abuses. We explained how the recent growth of a private security industry, fueled by the invasion of Iraq, necessitated the hiring of former soldiers and police officers trained and experienced in assassination and torture in formerly repressive countries.

Numerous radio stations have interviewed me about this article. Among the radio shows are “Political Thought,” WMAR, Poughkeepsie NY; “The Morning Zone,” KGAB, Cheyenne WY; and Ian Masters’ Background Briefing, KPFK-FM, Los Angeles CA. The last of these interviews can be accessed at http://www.barryyeoman.com/biography.html.

A column called “Coalition of Willing is Dwindling” in the Paradise Post (CA) quoted from it. I have done extensive interviews with a European television network, which is producing a documentary on the subject.

Amnesty International has a petition drive seeking accountability for private contractors at Abu Ghraib:http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/action/ index.asp?step=2&item=10897.

There are several excellent resources on the growth of this industry: Peter Singer’s book “Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry” (Cornell University Press, 2003) and the Center for Public Integrity’s 11-part investigation “Making a Killing: The Business of War” http://www. publicintegrity.org/bow/ are but a few