Chapter 10 – The Lobster Quadrille
We have been examining accountability, discussing in previous posts the Blackwater Christmas Eve shooting and immunity, the UCMJ, and civilian crimes. Now we are considering idealist, pragmatist, and pessimist views on why there have not been more armed contractor trials. The idealist view is that meaningful investigation and proper prosecution of serious incidents take time, and more trials are both inevitable and approaching. This time: new developments and the pragmatist view.
In the months since the Christmas Eve shooting, you have no doubt read hundreds of pieces offering insightful, detailed discussion and analysis of contractor accountability, including the applicable laws, the policy consid … you haven’t? Um, dozens of pieces? Uh, one or two pieces?
Ah, we forget. That doesn’t sell papers. It has to be sexy. Scandalous. Sleazy. If the spin can’t be “filthy mercenaries drinking babies’ blood in the moonlight while dancing around a bonfire of taxpayer dollars,” then it might not sell.
Take a minute some day and search “Blackwater Christmas Eve.” (Google, Yahoo, whatever.)
You will find a great deal of tabloid-like sensationalism of the known facts about the shooting itself—and very little discussion of the accountability aspects of the case. Usually you get “are subject to no laws at all,” or perhaps “subject to little regulation.”
So, the trial of our young shooter friend is beginning, but what say we hold it on the front page—that should ensure the rights of all involved, no? (For the record: If you want opinion, then based on what is public knowledge, our opinion is that the Blackwater armorer should be tried for murder or manslaughter and, if found guilty, imprisoned. However, opinion, we believe, should not be the focus of “news reporting.”)
We mention this, of course, because the Pilot today breaks lots of new background info on the incident, but the analysis can be summed up by this excerpt: “Contractors operate in a legal gray area.” Perhaps a truer statement was never written, but we'd like to deny the idea that 'the public is too ignorant to understand these issues.' Apathetic, perhaps. Stupid, no.
So kudos to the Pilot for uncovering more background info about this incident, but a brickbat to the forehead for taking a great opening for substantive discussion and squandering it. An in-depth look at contractor accountability would have been a valuable public service, but I guess you’ve gotta sell copy and make bonuses.
That said, let’s turn to the pragmatist view and see why courtroom trials of armed contractors / mercenaries (your call) should be expected, but in meaningfully lower per capita numbers than one might at first glance believe.
The testimony we were discussing last time points out 64 courts-martial of servicemembers for serious crimes in
According to old T. Christian Miller, there are roughly 160,000
So, ispo facto, QED, etc., etc., we use a ratio and see ... there should have been at least 78.75 contractors indicted by now, right? Not so fast.
As the testimony is quick to note, there are contractors and then there are armed contractors (you know, the mercenaries!)
The number of armed goons / security professionals is unclear. Mr. Miller says that the DoD dude charged with tracking civilian gun-toters says 6000. The Times gets to 10,800 based on companies present in-country—apparently forgetting that the staffs of those outfits include cooks, drivers, mechanics, etc., too.
The story also claims “the industry” says 30,000 armed contractors, although there does not seem to be any public record of the big three PSC trade associations making that statement. If you walk it backwards through a string of newspaper articles you find that 30,000 figure appearing from unnamed “Pentagon and company representatives” a few months ago, and it originally reading “as many as 30,000 Iraqis and ‘several thousand expats’ are working for private outfits in Iraq,” according to notoriously reliable and accurate Scott Custer, of Custer Battles fraud infamy.
But hey, that’s what myths are built of.
For purposes of discussion, let’s go with the 10,800 armed-contractor figure from the Times.
That would mean 4.73 armed contractors—let’s call it five—should be expected to have been prosecuted, right? Uh, not exactly.
That number assumes that the training, maturity, and experience of the armed contractors match that of the
The vast majority (76%) of the 2.7 million strong active and reserve
Private security forces, however, are comprised in vast majority of more-experienced, seasoned personnel. For example, looking at our strawman, Blackwater, they hire “military veterans in the 38-40 year age bracket who are experienced for deployment in the field.” (Outer Banks Sentinel, June 24, 2007).
Another indication of experience level may be found in who PSC’s seek to hire. E.g., Blackwater looks for
On top of the experience these veterans bring in the door, there is the company-provided training, as reported by our friends at the Pilot (before they realized how much attention they got by covering Blackwater).
We realize full well that analytical discussion of armed contractor experience detracts from the mythical media persona of The Mercenary as rugged, plaid-wearing, beef-jerky-eating badass danger junkies who make pirates, ninjas and, well, lumberjacks look like pansies, who are hairy and like to scratch themselves, and who don’t know what conditioner is for. Sorry to disappoint. Maybe someday we’ll do a whole post about gun-ape stereotypes, but for today let’s stick with the experience question.
20-year-old soldiers [go] from the humiliation of training—“getting yelled at every day if you have a dirty weapon”—to the streets of
From the same story:
And, you know, you’ve got these scared kids on these guns, and they just start opening fire. And there could be innocent people everywhere. And I’ve seen this, I mean, on numerous occasions where innocent people died because we’re cruising down and a bomb goes off.
“This unit sets up this traffic control point, and this 18-year-old kid is on top of an armored Humvee with a .50-caliber machine gun,” he said. “This car speeds at him pretty quick and he makes a split-second decision that that’s a suicide bomber, and he presses the butterfly trigger and puts 200 rounds in less than a minute into this vehicle.”
These quotes are all from a charming story about how
OK, but how about empirical evidence that seasoned forces are less likely to commit crimes?
Looking to other sources,
This discussion will be harshly attacked no matter how conservatively we estimate, but let’s take only the
Sir Churchill probably had it right when he said, “Statistics are like a drunk with a lamppost: used more for support than illumination.” Of course there are other arguments in regarding the likelihood of contractor vs. soldier misconduct. For example: Soldiers are performing offensive missions while contractors are bodyguards or static security, so incidents are even less likely. Or, on the other hand: “These numbers are all so misleading—they only mean the senior people know how not to get caught!!!”
Nonetheless, the Pragmatist does have a credible argument that as a practical matter, seasoned honorable-discharge veterans are meaningfully less likely to engage in criminal misconduct than are military personnel as a whole.
Next time: The Pessimist … and potential solutions.
Postscript: The last post mentioned gay porn, in passing, as part of the Cornhole Conspiracy discussion, and apparently that caused some folks to get their panties in a bunch. Let’s make something clear—U.S. prisons are not ideal, but they are better accomodations than much of the world has, and we here at The Rabbit don’t much care whether some dude would rather swap spit with Claudia Schiffer or with a lumberjack.
Also: Incongruous story of the week—Blackwater is going green? So much for “blood for oil.”