Private Security Contractors at War
“These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There’s no authority over them, so you can’t come down on them hard when they escalate force…. They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath.”Brig. Gen. Karl R. Horst, deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, July 2005.
This report examines the dramatic and expanded use by the United States of private security contractors in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and the abject failure of the U.S. government to control their actions or hold them criminally responsible for acts of excessive violence and abuse. As the ranks of private security contractors have grown and the number of serious incidents has increased, the U.S. government has failed to establish a workable accountability mechanism. In Iraq in particular the interplay between private security contractors, international military forces and local populations has exposed severe problems. But these issues are not unique to Iraq, and they will continue after Iraq.
The failure to establish a meaningful system of accountability for these contractors has undermined U.S. national security interests. To address this situation, Human Rights First proposes the vigorous enforcement of laws already in force today that provide a solid foundation for prosecuting violent crime involving contractors. We also propose that the federal government provide the necessary resources and properly prioritize law enforcement involving the contractor community. This will require vigorous and timely criminal investigations in the field and timely prosecution in the criminal courts. Military criminal investigations and courts-martial provide a solid model both in terms of determining necessary resources and the need for rapid investigation of these incidents. The Justice Department should work collaboratively with the military, benefiting from the latter’s expertise and resources.
When the United States or any nation deploys armed forces in conflicts abroad—even private armed forces—it has a legal responsibility to ensure that those forces are:
- Carefully vetted to ensure that individuals with histories of serious criminal conduct (especially human rights abuses) are not put in a position to victimize others;
- Rigorously trained in the laws of war and human rights particularly so that they understand their responsibilities toward detainees and civilians;
- Closely guided and supervised to help them cope with ambiguous or difficult circumstances and to ensure that their duties are upheld; and
- Held accountable under functioning legal regimes that punish those who commit serious crimes, particularly crimes involving violence and abuse.
In the second chapter of this report Human Rights First examines the patterns of private security contractor operations and the civilian casualties linked to them. The most recurrent violations involve the use of lethal force against civilians in what the private security contractors call “convoy protec