Saturday, April 30, 2005

Can you say "mercenary"?

A friend inquires, “Why do we refrain from calling the "military contractors" what they really are, mercenaries? Have you seen anyone waxing pissed off about this?"

Yes, I have. On April 1, 2004, Kos wrote about the four contractors who were murdered in Fallujah:

Let the people see what war is like. This isn’t an Xbox game. There are real repercussions to Bush’s folly. That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. They aren’t in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.

In the ensuing firestorm there was speculation that Kos might go under. Politicians who had been posting there evaporated, and advertisers paused. But he did not. He didn't apologize either, as I recall (Democrats, are you listening? Here is a role model for you!)

I see references to mercenaries here and there lately but the term doesn't seem to be getting a lot of traction. The term "war profiteers" shows up ALL the time. Personally, that's where my head is... on the Halliburtons rather than the truck drivers who can't get ahead in the US and are trying to get a stake together for their families. I've read some of their accounts and they're pretty moving. Often there’s an element of patriotism mixed in as well. No doubt there are crackpots and soldiers of fortune in the mix – but we don’t focus on them because we’re all being so careful this time to attack the war, not the people in it, as we did in Vietnam.

Technically, a mercenary takes a direct part in the fighting and is “neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict”; they are not lawful combatants and are not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. (They are still to be “treated with humanity,” ahem.) Civilian contractors are a separate legal entity and are protected under the Geneva Conventions.

So a truck driver is not a mercenary. A private armed guard is not a mercenary if he’s a U.S. citizen. But wait, sovereignty has been turned over to Iraq, right? So some argue yes, that armed guard is now a mercenary. And how about the fact that the U.S. did not sign the protocol in question and isn’t following the ones it did sign? Hmmm.

Mercenaries are common criminals, so I’d be careful. I think there are legitimate grounds to use the term (quietly, as a matter of fact, not attached to a Molotov cocktail a la Kos). Using it will reinforce the “war as business” frame and the “war crime” frame. Personally, I’m going to stick with “war profiteers.” They’re criminals, too.


leolabeth said...

Thanks a.d. for the update. I remember now the flap about Kos, but it hadn't registered as it was b.b. (before bloggin) for me.

I needed the distinction between mercenary and contractor. So good to know the latter had protection under the Geneva Convention while their victims at Abu Graib did not.

Alna Dem said...

Right, just like Guantanamo. It's great to go to sleep each night knowing that all our prisoners, from soldier to civilian to non-lawful combatants, are being treated humanely, just as the Geneva Conventions and common decency require. Oh, wait....