Academi, the military contracting firm formerly known as Xe and Blackwater Worldwide, was recently awarded a contract by the Pentagon to contribute to the “War on Drugs.” The company is notorious for scandals in Iraq and Afghanistan while providing auxiliary forces to the United States military, including the killing of Iraqi civilians and withholding of information regarding deaths of Blackwater’s own employees. Now, according to the BBC, it will be “providing advice, training and conducting operations in drug producing countries and those with links to so-called ‘narco-terrorism’ including Latin America.”
There are several troubling implications of this new partnership. The contract awarded to Academi was no-bid, meaning that the Pentagon went straight to Academi and the few other companies awarded contracts rather than waiting for a bidding process to bargain down the price of the services. Despite the Pentagon’s complaints about cuts in their budget and the Obama administration’s espoused commitment to drawing down the defense budget, this is a foolish and utterly wasteful way to distribute the funds.
More importantly, outsourcing security operations is wholly unethical. As a private company, Academi is not under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, is not constrained by the conventions and laws of war as practiced by the US military, and has shown a remarkable ability to escape domestic prosecution for well-known atrocities committed in Iraq. While there have been several instances of misconduct by American soldiers, they have been followed by discipline from the military courts. That kind of recourse is simply impossible with a private contractor. Especially in Latin America, and with a policy area as sensitive as drug enforcement, our international actors must be answerable only to the government, and by extension the American people. Choosing a private contractor to carry out military operations is simply not a responsible choice in any situation.
This contract also shows the US government’s continued support for a company that committed atrocities during its military contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the numerous scandals and breaches of conduct, the CIA, State Department, and Department of Defense have continued to award lucrative contracts to the former Blackwater.
The reliance on military contractors shows a lack of commitment to a more peaceful dialogue and foreign policy, and betrays the Obama administration’s stated commitments to transparency and accountability in government. The President must show persistence in the foreign policy line that he has touted, and that begins with leaving military work to the military.