An Object of Contemplation
Sounds Like a Setup for a Massacre to Me

Some Thoughts on MPRI

The Center for Public Integrity (Investigative Journalism in the Public Interest) has a very interesting online project: Windfalls of War: US Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They focus solely on companies doing business with the US government (i. e. they exclude government contracts in Iraq with the UK) and most of the hard information on contracts predates the current private "security" goldrush, so for example, Blackwater has no listing. But there's a lot of fun stuff here. Also excluded from the group's Freedom of Information Act requests was information about contracts with the Bremer regime:

While the Defense and State Departments have granted the lion's share of contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan directly from Washington, a few U.S. companies have made their deals directly with local governing authorities that have emerged with U.S. support or direction.

The companies do not appear on the lists of contracts the Center for Public Integrity obtained under the Freedom of Information Act; their direct dealings with the provisional authorities in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the complexity of tracking the role of private companies in the post-war countries.

They have a good write up on the Alexandria, Virginia, military firm Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), which covers, among other things, the reason why MPRI has the distinction of being the only private military firm to have been discussed in the Hague by a war crimes tribunal (Singer, p. 122-3):

In 1994 and 1995, MPRI was paid millions of dollars under a U.S. government-sanctioned contract to train the Croatian military. In August 1995, the previously inept Croatian army launched "Operation Storm," a U.S.-style military offensive designed to take back part of the country held throughout the war by rebel Serbs. Critics charged that MPRI provided training and tactical skills that enabled the Croatian military to perpetrate one of the largest episodes of ethnic cleansing in the breakup of former Yugoslavia. MPRI denied those charges. The offensive left hundreds dead and 150,000 homeless. Afterwards, the Croatian government expressed its gratitude to MPRI for its help in training its military. MPRI was later hired to train the new Bosnian army after the Dayton Peace Accords ended the war in former Yugoslavia.

MPRI is also the firm to whom the job of writing the US government manuals on how to utilize private military contractors was subcontracted: FM 100-10-2, Contracting Support on the Battle Field and FM-100-21: Contractors on the Battle Field (Singer pp 123-124). So, apparently, they got to write the rules on how the government will contract with them.

Googling on items like MPRI and Hague or Operation Storm yeild a daunting quantity of information; more than I feel able to cope with just now. But there seems to be a substantial contingent which believes that MPRI bears some significant responsibility civilian casualties of Operation Storm:

Was the US behind the single greatest act of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia?

"In early August 1995," writes researcher Gregory Elich, "the Croatian invasion of Serbian Krajina precipitated the worst refugee crisis of the Yugoslav civil war. Within days, more than two hundred thousand Serbs, virtually the entire population of Krajina, fled their homes, and 14,000 Serbian civilians lost their lives." ("The invasion of Serbian Krajina," NATO in the Balkans: Voices of Opposition, International Action Center, New York, 1998.)

This was Operation Storm, "the largest single act of ethnic cleansing of the Yugoslav civil war," according to Even Dyer, a journalist with CBC Radio. "And yet not one person has been arrested and brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia" ("Croatian atrocities being forgotten: Cdn. Officers," CBC News, July 21, 2003.)

Now, the subject of who committed war crimes in a situation like that is extremely complex. (Its complexity is nicely discussed in The Fog of Justice from The New York Review of Books.) Nonetheless, the matter raises troubling issues for the implications of military subcontracting. One of MPRI's current contracts in Iraq is to train the new Iraqi Army.

In midst of this mass rush to defend our defence and military outsourcing policies, we need to stop and consider. Using private contractors to perform functions traditionally performed by our military has complex implications. Restricting privately hired men with guns to defensive assignments does not eliminate the perception or actuality that we've hired mercenaries. Nor does restricting contractors to "training" functions keep them from attracting the attention of war crimes tribunals. This deniability is a sham, and it's important that as a country we come to grips with this as quickly as possible.