Sunday, September 11, 2005

Wednesday saw what appears to be the first death of a former Saskatchewan resident in the current Iraq conflict. Robert McCoy died when the vehicle he was in was attacked by a roadside bomb in Basra. McCoy held dual US-Canadian citizenship, his father coming from Thunderchild First Nation near Turtleford, and his mother coming from Texas. McCoy was a former member of both the Canadian Armed Forces and the US Marine Corps, and was working for Virginia based Triple Canopy Inc., a private security contractor working in Iraq. McCoy had served two terms in Iraq as a US Marine, and signed on with Triple Canopy when he mustered out. Triple Canopy has a contract with the US State Department to provide security in Iraq.

The use of private security firms in Iraq is a further expansion of what has been a growing trend in recent years, namely the use of private contractors to provide support services for operations by the US military, and the militaries of other countries.(The Canadian military for example uses commercial firms to move some of its equipment, which lead to an embarrassing situation several years ago when a shipping company refused to turn over some Canadian military vehicles on one of its ships.) The use of private firms to provide things like logistics is controversial enough given the size of some of the contracts involved. But there are even more questions when private companies are allowed to take on contracts that involve the use of lethal force. For example in a situation like Iraq, where the mechanisms of government are lacking, who policies what these groups are doing? Members of the US military must follow established military codes of conduct, and can be punished if they break them via military justice, but who does so for the employee of a private company that engages in what could be considered illegitimate activities. There's also the question of whether governments would consider using private firms to do their dirty work like the abuse of prisoners. This would allow them "plausible deniability," allowing them to claim that they had never authorised such conduct, that it was solely the doing of the company involved, if the occurance of such activities came out.

Daniel Bergner wrote an interesting piece on private security firm operating in Iraq, including Triple Canopy. Originally published in The New York Times Magazine you can read it here.

In some ways the return of mercenaries is a throwback to an earlier age. There was a time when the use of mercenaries by European powers was quite common. The Swiss Guards who provide security to the Vatican and the Pope are a remnant from the days when the Swiss provided some of the best mercenaries in Europe to whoever needed them. However as times changed the use of mercenaries declined, and by the second half of the 20th Century the profession was seen as a marginal one, at worst being perceived as a refuge for wannabe heroes with delusions of grandeur and psychopaths looking for an outlet for their violent tendencies.

Not everyone disapproves of soldiers for hire. In fact one strain of libertarianism, anarcho-capitalism, believes that there is no need for government, that everything, including policing and defense, can be done by private firms. Personally I think their arguments are naive, but they do exist. Of course it should be noted that such people generally disapprove of military interventions like Iraq in the first place.

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