P.W. Singer on Holding Private Militaries Accountable

Question: How are private soldiers different from volunteer soldiers?

Singer:    The challenge of the private military industry is that they work for you, they don’t serve for you.  That is, the structures under which they operate, they’re hired.  They are not part of the government.  They don’t take an oath of service, for example.  And so, you have contractual bounds with them but that’s as far as it goes.  And so, when it comes to accountability, there is a limitation in which you can apply to a company.  Company has its own discretion.  It’s not like a military unit that says, you know what, “Sir, yes, Sir.  We’ll go where we’re deployed.”  A company takes decisions based on its own interest.  Does it mean it always takes bad decisions, in many cases, it’ll take even better decisions than a public entity would.  But it got its own interest in mind.  And it’s the same thing for a private soldier.  They are an employee.  That is, they have discretion on when and where they work.  So, for example, if they want to break the contract, they can.  And they can’t be prosecuted for breaking a contract.  And they can break the contract for any sorts of reasons, maybe because they get a better job offer from somewhere else.  It can be because their wife has a baby, and you know what, they want to go home and see them.  It can be that, you know, Iraq isn’t the vacation paradise I thought it was going to be.  Soldiers, public soldiers don’t have that discretion.  And it’s the same thing when it comes to the rule of law.  There have been a wide variety of laws that we think can apply to these companies but they’ve been very difficult to figure out how they apply to them in the midst of war, because the laws are typically set up for civilians, not for soldiers operating in a war space.  And then, you later, on top of that, we haven’t had a whole lot of political will to deal with it.  That is, we’ve known about incidents but haven’t chosen to prosecute them.  And hopefully, that’s something that’s going to change.  Hopefully, you’ll have this vacuum.  And when I say vacuum, it’s not just my words, it’s actually what military lawyers describe.  It describe that for a long time, contractors were in the same legal void, the same legal netherworld that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay were in.  It was as if they don’t exist to the law.  Hopefully, those are starting to close down and you see more and more laws starting to be applied.  But the real question is, do you have enforcement?  Rules aren’t rules unless there’s enforcement on top of it. 

The author explains the difference between working in a war and serving in a war.

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