Monday, April 24, 2006

Outsourcing Justice

After four private security contractors were killed in Fallujah in March 2004, the U.S. retaliated against the entire city. U.S. forces even used white phosphorous, to horrific effect.

Now, the families of the slain guards are suing the guards’s employer, Blackwater USA, for contractual violations which allegedly endangered the men. For instance, the escort mission they were on was supposed to have three men in each car. But only two men were in each car, meaning that each vehicle lacked a rear gunner.

It costs money to hire guns. But how much — and who pays?

Scott Helvenston, one of the Blackwater men killed in Fallujah, was paid $600 per day. Blackwater billed a company in Kuwait $800 per day for Helvenston’s services. In turn, the company in Kuwait billed a Cypriot company, E.S.S., which reportedly got the contract from Kellogg, Brown, and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton. And Halliburton got the job from us.

Suppose each link in the chain made $200 per day for its part in outsourcing Helvenston’s job. That’s $600 for Helvenston; $1000 for the middle-men.

It’s easy to see why business favors a volunteer army and privatization of the military. After all, isn’t business always more efficient than government?

To glimpse the true nature of the enterprise, however, forget about the money and watch the legal shenanigans. Purely for the sake of argument, assume that some actionable fault led to the death of Helvenston and the others. So what?

When Iraq was under the control of the Coalition Provisional Authority, U.S. contractors were exempted by decree from Iraqi laws. And Iraq is clearly in no position to enforce its laws over anybody today. Blackwater USA is not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice; and apparently, U.S. law does not apply because the assumed offense occurred outside the United States.

Imagine for the moment that Helvenston and the others were never sent on that fateful mission. Imagine instead that a Blackwater supervisor simply walked up to them and gunned them down. So what? Who could arrest him? What jury, if any, would hear the case? What law did he break?

George Bush, Junior oversaw the creation of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which authorized viceroy Paul Bremer to issue such decrees. On April 17, 2006, Bush spoke at John Hopkins University and took questions from the audience. A student briefly summarized the controversy surrounding the legal status of private military contractors. “I would submit to you,” the student said, “that this is one case [where] privatization is not a solution:”

…Mr. President, how do you propose to bring private military contractors under a system of law?

And Bush replied:

Yeah, I appreciate that very much. I wasn’t kidding. I was going to — I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I’ve got an interesting question. This is what delegation — I don't mean to be dodging the question, although it’s kind of convenient in this case, but never — I really will. I’m going to call the secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? It’s — that’s how I work.

We are outsourcing justice. In the United States of America, we are outsourcing justice itself. So when we run out of it here at home, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.


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