I write a bit about Private Military Contractors. One reason for their use is to get around the Universal Code of Military Justice, local laws, international law, Congressional oversight, etc. Part of the flip side for PMCs--fighting and support--is they can be left hanging when things go wrong. People rarely even mention the casualty figures for these people (the Pentagon is in no hurry to publicize them). Many of them are just trying to a difficult job in dangerous circumstances. Some are more like the old-fashioned mercs of the Cold War. Few of them deserve to be left hanging when things go wrong--but that's too often what happens. A recent series in the Christian Science Monitor helps to shine the light on these people and their families. A sample:
Estimates of the number of private security personnel and other civilian contractors in Iraq today range from 126,000 to 180,000 – nearly as many, if not more than, the number of Americans in uniform there. Most are not Americans. They come from Fiji, Brazil, Scotland, Croatia, Hungary, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Australia, and other countries.Click to enlarge
Source: Federal Procurement Data System/Research: Leigh Montgomery, John Aubrey/Graphic: Rich Clabaugh – Staff
"A very large part of the total force is not in uniform," Scott Horton, who teaches the law of armed conflict at Columbia University School of Law, said in congressional testimony last month. In World War II and the Korean War, contractors amounted to 3 to 5 percent of the total force deployed. Through the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War, the percentage grew to roughly 10 percent, he notes. "But in the current conflict, the number appears to be climbing steadily closer to parity" with military personnel. "This represents an extremely radical transformation in the force configuration," he says.
Until recently, there has been little oversight of civilian contractors operating in Iraq. The Defense Department is not adequately keeping track of contractors – where they are or even how many there are, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a report last December. This is especially true as military units rotate in and out of the war zone (as do contractors) and institutional memory is lost.
This lack of accountability has begun to change with a Democrat-controlled Congress. As part of the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act passed last year, Congress now requires that civilian contractors who break the law – hurt or kill civilians, for example – come under the legal authority of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So far, however, the Pentagon has not issued guidance to field commanders on how to do this.
Contrary to popular perception, most contractors are not the beefy, grim guys wearing scary sunglasses and carrying guns. But in a war like Iraq, every one from mechanics to translators has become a target. At least 916 contractors have been killed in the four-year war and more than 12,000 wounded, according to official statistics and Labor Department figures provided to the New York Times and Reuters. An unknown number experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But unless they have previous military service, contractors are not eligible for help from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Many have been denied treatment by insurance companies. In some cases, the companies they worked for have successfully fought legal efforts to declare the firms liable for physical or mental injury resulting from work in Iraq.
Enter Jana Crowder, a "stay-at-home mom with four kids" who started a website for moral support during the seven months her husband was an engineering contractor in Iraq.
"I had no idea what I was getting into," says Mrs. Crowder, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn. "I found a whole different war zone out there – contractors coming home physically and mentally damaged. I didn't even know what PTSD was, but I had guys calling me up saying they had nightmares, that they couldn't sleep, that they were hallucinating and crying."
It's worth a look.