Blackwater Contractors Found Guilty But Will It Prevent Future Violence?

A recent guilty verdict for Blackwater contractors has sparked a new conversation on the use of private military companies.

On October 22 four former Blackwater military contractors were found guilty in the deaths of fourteen Iraqi citizens. The ruling is related to a 2007 incident where Blackwater contractors fired automatic weapons, sniper rifles, and grenade launchers at a public square. In addition to the fourteen deaths, seventeen other individuals were injured.

The LA Times reports that prosecutors flew out dozens of family members and Iraqi citizens who witnessed the event. The jury found Nicholas Slatten guilty of first-degree murder, and Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard all guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Slatten could receive life in prison while the other three are facing 30-year mandatory minimum sentences.

The verdict has relaunched a conversation around the military’s growing use of private military companies. Conflicting reports between Blackwater, since renamed to Academi, and the 71 witnesses make the situation all the more precarious. The public is not so willing to buy the oft-repeated line that the “Wild West” days of Academi and other private contractors are in the past.

Some in the media have asked why the Blackwater grunts take the heat yet original Blackwater owner Erik Prince goes free. Should he be held accountable? Is the US government even capable of controlling the private military sector? Jeremy Scahill writes:

While the Blackwater verdict is an important and rare moment of accountability in an overwhelmingly unaccountable private war industry, it does not erase the fact that those in power—the CEOs, the senior officials, the war profiteers—walk freely and will likely do so for the rest of their lives.

There are estimated to be at least 100,000 private military contractors doing business with the United States government through the Department of Defense. The expansion of these contracts has allowed the White House to shrink official military personnel while maintaining or increasing the amount of contractors with boots on the ground.

When it comes to Blackwater there were apparently several warning signs that may have indicated the type of agency the US was involved with . In 2007 the corporation came under fire for allegedly smuggling weapons.  An investigation found that there was evidence that Blackwater had shipped weapons to Iraq without a license.

Earlier this Summer the New York Times reported that a top official with Blackwater had threatened to kill a US government investigator just weeks before the 2007 incident. The investigator was told he could be killed and no one would do anything since they were in Iraq. In a perfect example of Blackwater’s influence, American Embassy officials told the investigator to leave the country as he had apparently upset the private contractors. Upon being forced out of the country the official wrote a report detailing the experience and stating that the lack of oversight had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”

While many of us work to limit government over-regulation it seems that the private military industry provides some important philosophical questions regarding the monopoly on force. Currently governments have a monopoly on force, meaning that if an individual commits a murder or theft as a government employee we call it war or taxation. If the average person were to perform these acts they would be arrested for crimes.

The reality, however, is that theft, violence and murder are wrong no matter who is doing the action. Individuals under their own volition or soldiers following orders – it’s all the same. If we were to follow that line of thinking one might make the arguement that the government should not maintain this monopoly. It’s easy to look at the situation and say the actions of Blackwater and other contractors are immoral or illegal and something should be done about them. But is the solution to look to the government to rectify the situation?

Perhaps by reexamining the governments monopoly on force we can work towards a clearer understanding of the proper role of government. Privatization has the potential to improve many industries but we have to ask ourselves if privatizing warfare and the military will help create a more free world.

Former Blackwater owner Erik Prince has been accused of calling his role in the Iraq War a “Crusade”. Some argue that he believes himself to be a religious warrior using his army to wage a war on those who would harm the United States and Christian values. Is this the kind of person who should have a private army at his disposal? Most recently Prince even suggested that private military contractors be used to help with the Ebola situation.

What are your thoughts? Does privatization work for the military? Should the government maintain a monopoly on force?