Private Army Smackdown Over There

This is a MUST READ must read.

It is DefenseTech exclusive on how a little bitty change that was snuck into a Pentagon budget last year could have major consequences on how the private armies civilian contractors are handled. The piece written by P.W. Singer, a Senior Fellow and Director at The Brookings Institution, describes the change,

Amidst all the add-ins, pork spending, and excitement of the budget process, it has now come out that a tiny clause was slipped into the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2007 budget legislation. The one sentence section (number 552 of a total 3510 sections) states that “Paragraph (10) of section 802(a) of title 10, United States Code (article 2(a) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), is amended by striking `war’ and inserting `declared war or a contingency operation’.” The measure passed without much notice or any debate. And then, as they might sing on School House Rock, that bill became a law (P.L.109-364).

This minor change means that places like Iraq, Afghanistan or all the other little undeclared imperial skirmishes in the last 65 years would have been covered. With this ingenious rewording, private contractors can now be tried just like soldiers. This hopefully means no more Elvis videos and no more out-of-control interrogators.

Singer goes on to describe the ups and downs – well the downs – of the private contract policies until now. No oversight, No control, no real regulations…

The situation perhaps hit its low-point this fall, when the Under Secretary of the Army testified to Congress that the Army had never authorized Halliburton or any of its subcontractors (essentially the entire industry) to carry weapons or guard convoys. He even denied the US had firms handling these jobs. Never mind the thousands of newspaper, magazine, and TV news stories about the industry. Never mind Google’s 1,350,000 web mentions. Never mind the official report from U.S. Central Command that there were over 100,000 contractors in Iraq carrying out these and other military roles. In a sense, the Bush Administration was using a cop-out that all but the worst Hollywood script writers avoid. Just like the end of the TV series Dallas, Congress was somehow supposed to accept that the private military industry in Iraq and all that had happened with it was somehow ‘just a dream.’

But Congress didn’t bite, it now seems. With the addition of just five words in the law, contractors now can fall under the purview of the military justice system. This means that if contractors violate the rules of engagement in a warzone or commit crimes during a contingency operation like Iraq, they can now be court-martialed (as in, Corporate Warriors, meet A Few Good Men). On face value, this appears to be a step forward for realistic accountability. Military contractor conduct can now be checked by the military investigation and court system, which unlike civilian courts, is actually ready and able both to understand the peculiarities of life and work in a warzone and kick into action when things go wrong.

The amazing thing is that the change in the legal code is so succinct and easy to miss (one sentence in a 439-page bill, sandwiched between a discussion on timely notice of deployments and a section ordering that the next of kin of medal of honor winners get flags) that it has so far gone completely unnoticed in the few weeks since it became the law of the land. Not only has the media not yet reported on it. Neither have military officers or even the lobbyists paid by the military industry to stay on top of these things.

This. Is. Cool. I wonder who we can thank for this? And the best part? George already signed the sucker into law. No signing statement to say, “well everything but this part.” Ha! Gotcha!

The rather long article goes on to talk about what effect this might have, what the legal positioning will be and where things might go from here. But for the moment this is law.

Of course the bill is too big not to also have it’s down side (Hat Tip: Toward Freedom). Language like

“the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of (“refuse” or “fail” in) maintaining public order, “in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” [my emphisis]

This reads a little like a federal marshal law. But you have the good with the bad right? Noah, over at DefenseTech has already posted initial reactions to the good news.

But with the new Congress, dear Harriet’s departure and that pesky mail thing, you’ll probably only hear about this here.

Well over there.


1 comment so far

  1. GDAEman on

    Seems that those massive, unread laws that get passed by Congress can cut both ways. Having worked on Capitol Hill, I can attest that the system is out of control.

    We take our victories where we can get them. This subject of privatizing the military is a creepy one. Gotta “smack it down” as you say. Here’s a little more on the topic:

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