Holstering the Hired Guns: New Accountability Measures for Private Security Contractors

On September 16, 2007, a team of security contractors from Blackwater Worldwide shot dead seventeen Iraqi civilians while escorting American diplomats through central Baghdad. The fallout was swift and farreaching. Iraq demanded that Blackwater cease operating in the country. Its parliament introduced legislation to revoke the blanket immunity granted to contractors in the early days of the war by the American administrators who governed Iraq. Within a week, family members of the victims had filed a lawsuit in U.S. court, the FBI had launched an investigation and warned of criminal charges, and the House Government Reform Committee had issued a withering report on security contractors’ transgressions. Soon after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, military commanders, academics, and Iraqi officials have warned of insufficient oversight and accountability for the private contractors operating there. Deployed in unprecedented numbers, contractors have been implicated in a range of alleged crimes and human rights violations. So far, however, not a single contractor has been successfully prosecuted for violence perpetrated in Iraq. Furthermore, no contractor or company has been held liable for torts committed there. Attempts at self-regulation by the industry have also proven ineffective. Recent months have seen wide-ranging attempts to bring accountability to the industry. This recent development will explain these efforts, which include legislative initiatives, criminal charges against individual contractors, and attempts by private litigants to secure judgments for money damages. Because of the enormous body of literature on the topic of private military contractors, the analysis will focus narrowly on the issue raised by the September shootings–the various punishments and remedies available under both civilian and military law for harms done by American contractors to Iraqi civilians.

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