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Thursday, April 08, 2004

Will Kill For Cash: Mercinaries and International Law

At present, there are between 10,000 and 30,000 military security employees in Iraq, whose salaries are paid for, indirectly, by our tax dollars.

I'm ambivalent about the role these mercenaries are playing in our current conflict. On the one hand, I would be glad if my friend, a guardsman and father of two small children, could be replaced in Iraq by someone who really wants to be there, enjoys combat, and has much less to lose.

On the other hand, the use of mercenaries opens a pandora's box of potential problems. For example, do we really want standing armies of individuals willing to kill primarily for the profit motive?

In "Crimes of War", Elizabeth Rubin provides context for the debate...

"...Mercenarism is perhaps the second-oldest profession. Back in the days of Italian city-states even the Pope contracted condottieri to hire outside soldiers for defense. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Swiss were renowned for their free standing battalions hired out to other European countries. It was not until this century, during the turbulent period of decolonization in Africa, that mercenaries gained notoriety as bloodthirsty dogs of war wreaking havoc with the sovereignty of weak, newly independent African States. Such freelance guns-for-hire are accountable to no nation-state and no international laws. They will work for the highest bidder regardless of the cause and are rightly regarded as destabilizing agents. After all, they have no stake in the country’s future and as long as war continues, so do their salaries.

So, in 1968, the United Nations General Assembly and the Organization for African Unity established laws against mercenaries, making the use of them against movements for national liberation and independence punishable as a criminal act. In 1977, the Security Council adopted a resolution condemning the recruitment of mercenaries to overthrow governments of UN member-States. The 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, in Article 47, stripped mercenaries of the right to claim combatant or prisoner of war status, thus leaving them vulnerable to trials as common criminals in the offended State. It also left the definition of mercenaries, in the view of many critics, dangerously subjective and partly dependent upon judging a person’s reasons for fighting".

Recent news reports seem to indicate that there is a bit of conflict between U.S. soliders and their paramilitary counterparts. When these independent contractors seek assistance from regular forces, some accouts describe them as slow to respond. Perhaps they share some of my ambivalence.

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