Scott Horton discusses the new Human Rights First document (“Private Security Contractors at War: Ending the Culture of Impunity”(4MB PDF))arguing for an end to impunity to war "contractors." It's not difficult to agree. When one looks at the overall patterns, it really does appear the use of mercenaries and private contractors is an attempt to skirt the rules of just war. The damage, of course, is immeasurable.
A few years ago, Secretary Rumsfeld was asked by a bright graduate student at Johns Hopkins how contractors were being held to account for violent conduct in Iraq? He responded that it was “the contractor’s responsibility.” Now, in a certain sense of course contractors have to account internally and to their contract officer. But Rumsfeld was dead wrong. Contractors are not responsible for enforcing the criminal law. That’s the responsibility of Government.
A few weeks ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, grappling with the controversy surrounding the Nisoor Square incident on September 16, 2006, explained that there was a “gap in the law” and that as a result contractors could not be held to account.
That statement was profoundly irresponsible. The conditions of immunity didn’t just fall from the sky. They resulted from carefully considered policies of the Bush Administration—starting with the decision to issue CPA Order No. 17, granting immunity to expat contractors in Iraq. We’re not saying that it was a mistake to issue Order No. 17, immunizing contractors from criminal prosecution by the Iraqi authorities. We are saying that having done so, the U.S. Government–and specifically the Department of Justice–assumed a heightened responsibility to provide for accountability in the form of law enforcement for violent crimes.