Oversight of Blackwater a “grey zone”

Robert Young Pelton, author of “Licensed to Kill. Hired Guns in the War of Terror” was interviewed on NPR after Blackwater head Erik Prince testified before Congress yesterday. Pelton says what Blackwater and similar security contractors do is in a ‘gray zone’ and probably deliberately so. Primarily hired by the State Department, who appear to be their major enablers, they are permitted to kill if, for example, while escorting a diplomat, a car approaches them, ignores a warning, and keeps coming. Even if the driver is a woman with a baby. That’s their rules of engagement under State Department rules. Murky, aren’t they?

And if dealing with one private military contractor gets too messy, well, State can easily discard them and another contractor will take their place. Plausible deniability. Shifting of responsibility.

Pelton suggests, and rightfully so, that the real problem here exists within the US government and State Department, without whom the security contractors would not exist.


  1. Murky indeed – but then again, keeps the place interesting. 😉

    Wouldn’t you say though, that a soldier (or contractor in this case) is just as responsible for their actions as a commander?

  2. I would certainly agree with that, the man who pulls the trigger has the final say, it’s his responsibility.

  3. Absolutely, the underlings are responsible. But they wouldn’t be there without the commander (or, in the case of contractors, those who hired them.).

    Lynddie England was guilty as Hell, but the culture permitted and encouraged what she did at Abu Ghraib. And she took the fall and the higher-ups didn’t.

  4. That is how this system works, we don’t expect the top brass to take the fall, it is always the lower down guys but they still have the choice to go along with what is happening, culture or no culture. Would you or I do what was done to other human beings at Abu Ghraib? I don’t think so, there has to be something in the person that actually carries out the brutal acts. They can’t blame culture or orders, they have to be responsible for there actions, likewise the top brass in ignoring/condoning/encouraging or ordering such acts are just as guilty. I agree the system stinks and is unjust but it is made up of and is driven by people.

  5. Blackwater and the other 100 plus private security contractors, that’s polite for mercenaries, are but one aspect of the military industrial complex that has permeated our government and society. It is a particular problem with this administration and and war. Ike was so right about the MIC. We have been somewhat blind, and it may be too late to do anything. If half the nation is dependent on government for incomes what can we change? If everybody breaks a particular law, it is going to remain illegal for long?. Hell, it may be the way we get public financing of elections. The feds give contracts, a percenatage of each contract has to be given to incumbernts and a percentage to challengers. Oh, that’s kind of what we are doing already. Ooops.

  6. On the one hand, military indoctrination (boot camp) is designed to get you to do things most of us would not otherwise do– like jump in front of a bullet if ordered to do so.

    On the other hand, something has been lost within military culture– the concept of command responsibility. There’s a line in the movie “Gallipoli” in which a commander, ordered by his general to have his men commence an obviously suicidal attack, says, “I cannot ask them to do something I won’t do myself.” And he goes over the top with them.

    At one time, one’s king was expected to lead his men into battle. Later that task was delegated to generals. Now generals rarely go near the front. It’s the grunts who need the paycheck that take the risks– physically and morally.

    “Forward he cried from the rear and the front rank died…” –Pink Floyd

  7. Good points, all. I have another post on this coming in a few hours.

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