Amnesty protests torture “outsourcing”; Koppel wants “mercenary army”

From the New York Times news service, May 23:

LONDON Amnesty International assailed the United States’ use of military contractors in Iraq on Tuesday as “war outsourcing” that may be fueling human rights abuses.

“War outsourcing is creating the corporate equivalent of Guantánamo Bay – a virtual rules-free zone in which perpetrators are not likely to be held accountable for breaking the law,” Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in Washington as the human rights group presented its annual report in London.

In both cities, senior figures of Amnesty International used the annual report to highlight what they depicted as pressing concerns about the war on terrorism. “It is difficult to believe that the United States government, which once considered itself as an exemplar of human rights, has sacrificed its most fundamental principle by abusing prisoners as a matter of policy, by ‘disappearing’ detainees into a network of secret prisons and by abducting and sending people for interrogation to countries that practice torture such as Egypt, Syria and Morocco,” Cox said.

In London, the organization seemed to send mixed signals. In an introduction to the annual report, Irene Khan, director general of Amnesty International, said that there were “signs for optimism” in the global human rights picture, including in the war on terrorism.

“There were some clear signs that a turning point may be in sight after five years of backlash against human rights in the name of counterterrorism,” she said. “In the past year, some of the world’s most powerful governments have received an uncomfortable wake- up call about the dangers of undervaluing the human rights dimension of their actions at home and abroad.”

But, in a statement as she unveiled the annual report, Khan said: “Governments collectively and individually paralyzed international institutions and squandered public resources in pursuit of narrow security interests, sacrificed principles in the name of the ‘war on terror’ and turned a blind eye to massive human rights violations.”

“As a result,” she said, “the world has paid a heavy price, in terms of erosion of fundamental principles and in the enormous damage done to the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people.”

The war on terrorism, she said, “is failing and will continue to fail until human rights and human security are given precedence over narrow national security interests.”

In the United States, Cox took issue principally with “the U.S. government’s outsourcing of military detention, security and intelligence operations, which may be fueling serious human rights abuses. And most of those who commit these abuses seem to be getting away with it.”

Of the estimated 25,000 military contractors working in Iraq, he said that some “stand accused of engaging in or supporting human rights violations such as sexual abuse and torture. Some have been implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal, and numerous news reports highlight how contractors have fired at civilians in Iraq with devastating consequences.”

Ironically, the report appears just days after Ted Koppel explicitly called for the US to create an “Army of Mercenaries” on the op-ed page of the New York Times, as Editor & Publisher noted May 21:

NEW YORK Little known to the American public, there are some 50,000 private contractors in Iraq, providing support for the U.S. military, among other activities. So why not go all the way, hints Ted Koppel in a New York Times op-ed on Monday, and form a real “mercenary army”?

Such a move involving what he calls “latter-day Hessians” would represent, he writes, “the inevitable response of a market economy to a host of seemingly intractable public policy and security problems.”

The issue is raised by our “over-extended military” and inability of the United Nations to form adequate peace forces. Meanwhile, Americans business interests grow ever more active abroad in dangerous spots.

“Just as the all-volunteer military relieved the government of much of the political pressure that had accompanied the draft, so a rent-a-force, harnessing the privilege of every putative warrior to hire himself out for more than he could ever make in the direct service of Uncle Sam, might relieve us of an array of current political pressures,” Koppel explains, tongue possibly in cheek.

“So, if there are personnel shortages in the military (and with units in their second and third rotations into Iraq and Afghanistan, there are), then what’s wrong with having civilian contractors? Expense is a possible issue; but a resumption of the draft would be significantly more controversial….

“So, what about the inevitable next step — a defensive military force paid for directly by the corporations that would most benefit from its protection? If, for example, an insurrection in Nigeria threatens that nation’s ability to export oil (and it does), why not have Chevron or Exxon Mobil underwrite the dispatch of a battalion or two of mercenaries?”

Koppel notes that Cofer Black, formerly a high-ranking C.I.A. officer and now a senior executive with Blackwater USA, “has publicly said that his company would be prepared to take on the Darfur account.”

He concludes: “The United States may not be about to subcontract out the actual fighting in the war on terrorism, but the growing role of security companies on behalf of a wide range of corporate interests is a harbinger of things to come.”

As we have noted before, the US is already recuiting veterans of the dirty wars in Colombia and Central America for the Iraq war.

See our last post on the torture scandal.