Iraq bill would lift contractor immunity

Recently, body guards from the private company Blackwater USA were involved in a gunfight that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. Whether they were at fault for this is not the point I want to make in this blog. However, I would like to discuss how important immunity to these security contractors is in order to get them to do what they need to do when protecting our diplomats.

If I were a security contractor and had the responsibility of protecting a US diplomat, I would really want the ability to make an informed decision in a split second and then be able to act on that without being blamed for accidental deaths in the line of duty. It seems to me that they have two choices: take action (pull the trigger when instinct suggests that it should be done) or watch as our diplomats and possibly the contractors themselves are killed on their way to important meetings by terrorists who don't necessarily care if they live or die (remember that Islamic terrorists get to have 72 virgins when they take the terrorist plunge).

Now I don't support just shooting people without a good cause, please don't take my argument in the wrong way. However, these contractors are usually ex-soldiers and ex-policemen who are well trained when it comes to this kind of thing and should be able to act when they feel it is appropriate.

I would think that it would really quash the demand for good security contractors in areas like Iraq and Afghanistan if we remove their immunity from prosecution when they act in the line of duty.


Wyatt said...

There has to be a point where the contractors are liable for their actions. I do agree there needs to be some discretion on the contractor’s part in order to do their job. But when they opened fire and killed a bunch of unarmed people it raised serious concerns. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is any good answer for this problem.

Dr. Tufte said...

There is a good answer to this problem, but because of framing most people don't see it.

What contractors need is a substitute for limited liability. The natural one is to pay them a lot more if they can be held liable after the fact.

The problem that everyone is missing is that the government pays the bills, and they are cheap. As a matter of policy, they are choosing to pay less explicit costs and more implicit ones. Until someone points that out forcefully, it will be difficult for the discussion to go forward.

Gavin said...

Extra Credit - Dr. Tufte
Dr. Tufte said that the government is unwilling to pay high rates for these security contractors. If the cost for these contractors goes up, the quality of security will go down. Highered mercenaries will take the work for a lower wage, and there will be fewer professionals doing this important work.

Dr. Tufte said...

-1 on Gavin for a spelling error.

I don't agree - I think this is an issue of you get what you pay for, and governments are cheap.