Blackwater (PMSC) Remembered: Abu Ghraib Human Rights

Expert from: Coutnerterrorism and its Affronts to Human Rights by. Kurtis Edwards

**Eric Prince, Blackwater founder, is the brother of Betsy DeVos, current US Secretary of Education.

One of the more sinister parts of detaining terrorists and the subject that brings PMSC back in the conversation is the torture and humiliation of prisoners at the hands of PMSCs and military personal in clandestine prisons. Mentioned above was the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal of 2003. What were the causes of that scandal and what does it mean for PMSCs in general? Scholars like Kristine Huskey (2012), George Mastroianni (2011), and Bernardo Zacka (2016) find the cause to be in multidimensional causalities. They look at the organizational attributes of the operating staff and employer, the chain of command along the division lines of military and contractor, as well as the personal sexual deficiency of particular PMSC workers at Abu Ghraib.

Zacka (2016) finds much fault in adhocracy, in quoting him “Abu Ghraib as an instantiation of a distinctive organizational model, adhocracy, that relies extensively on the delegation of improvisation and practical judgment to low-level operators” (p. 39). Diving deeper, Zacka (2016) finds even the absence of organizational standard operating procedures to feed the adhocracy of the PMSC in charge of Abu Ghraib (p. 44). In quoting Zacka (2016), he warns, reliance on adhocracies, however, comes at a risk: any increase in the discretionary power of frontline soldiers, when it comes hand in hand with a relaxation in the stringency of hierarchical monitoring, is a decrease in the safeguards that detainees are entitled to. (p. 54)

Mastroianni finds fault for Abu Ghraib in the sexual deficiencies of the guards in charge of prisoners. In quoting Mastroianni (2013), he says stacking naked prisoners in a pyramid, attaching electric wires to detainees, forcing men to simulate fellatio and stand against the wall and masturbate were all the creative work of the soldiers prosecuted and no one else. These acts were not performed at Guantanamo, and quite likely were unique to this group of soldiers. (p. 60) Mastroianni is partially correct with his assessment; the prison guards were tried and convicted of sexual crimes committed on their free will (Mastroianni, 2013, p. 64). In the end, Mastroianni (2013) worries that we squandered “our chance to debate the morality and efficacy of torture and enhanced interrogation techniques on a group of sexualized thugs? As counterterrorism supplants counterinsurgency as our strategic focus, warfare moves further into the shadows” (p. 65). His worry as of 2017 appears to hold a lot of weight.

Abu Ghraib highlights the fact the PMSC’s, even though they are private, can commit the same atrocities as militaries and state apparatuses. The problem becomes the fact that there are little regulation and applicable humanitarian and human rights law that hold the PMSC accountable in the same way a state would. Huskey (2012) asserts that “existing international law does not go far enough in the contracting phase or the post-conduct phase, to prevent and account for misconduct by PMSCs personnel” (p. 205). Huskey (2012) for the sake of her research breaks the life of a PMSC into three categories (p. 195-196). This is rather convenient because she can highlight within those categories where accountability of PMSCs suffers the greatest and in effect causes greater suffering on combatants that are in the PMSCs care (p. 205). Huskey (2012) concludes by saying most important is the inability of international law to assign responsibility to states and other entities at significant points of PMSC and personnel interaction with states and individuals. Montreux and the Draft Convention – neither which is currently binding – illuminate these gaps, among other, and highlight the need for more comprehensive international and domestic law if full accountability in all three phases is to be achieved. (p. 208) It is rather challenging to try and counter Huskey’s argument when presented with the research found in this essay. The same black hole of international law that applies to a detained terrorist refers to the PMSC as well. However, only one of those entities can benefit from that situation. While technically, by international law, treating a terrorist as a war combatant would give that terrorist the same rights as the state fighting them. In reality, that is not always the case. Once detained, the terrorist is not considered a war soldier or civilian criminal, as mentioned numerous times in this essay.

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