Appropriately lost amongst the headlines of contemporary turmoil and tragedy is the commencement of the trial for five former Blackwater security contractors charged with manslaughter, murder and illegal use of weapons stemming from the 2007 shooting and killing of seventeen Iraqis in Baghad’s Nisour Square – the charges against the men pertain to fourteen of the seventeen people killed.
As a result of a 2009 dismissal of an initial trial followed by the successful appeal of the 2009 decision in 2011, it has taken nearly seven years to test the legal validity of the claim that the shooting in Nisour Square was done in self-defence. And this is why the trial is actually an important global event; a minute event, but an important one nonetheless.
The right to self-defence, of an individual person or an organization of people such as a nation-state, is held, globally, as a customary, codified and, for some, commonsensical right. Whether a divine, natural, legal or political provision, the right to self-defence is globally accepted as a foundational right that governs how people and organizations of people may interact violently. Globalized acceptance does not mean globally minded practice however. Determining for whom, when and how self-defence can be legitimately claimed and enacted is too often fraught with inconsistencies, contradictions and hypocrisy’s that afford the powerful, the privileged, the “strong” the right to defend themselves, whilst determining other forms of violence, particularly those directed at/against the powerful, privileged and strong, to be illegitimate.
In this trial, it would appear as though the powerful, privileged and strong are being held to account for their enactments of violence. Even if the defendants can prove that they were not the aggressors in Nisour Square, the prosecution can still mount a convincing case that the force exercised by the contractors was reckless and excessive and thus illegitimate. That the former contractors are being held to account through judicial proceedings must be lauded as one of a few serious efforts to hold security contractors to account for heinous actions perpetrated in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It also must be recognized as a privileged proceeding for the men being charged. This trial is a privilege and thus globally meaningful, at least when it comes to the exercise of legitimate violence, because too few instances of self-defence are subject to judicial proceedings, let alone other forms of collective oversight and too many instances of excessive and reckless violence are “legitimized” through inequitable and discriminatory processes, which allow certain people and organizations of people to effectively enact let alone claim self-defence.
Effectively enacting defence of the self is by no means a globally equitable performance. The capabilities of some, in this case commercial security contractors, to procure and equip themselves with both deflective (e.g. body armour) and ballistic (e.g. automatic firearms) technologies drastically enhances the potential to effectively enactment self-defence. Indeed that is the very point of commercially sourced security guards, which is to say that commercial security contractors are themselves a technology of self-defence of those they’ve been hired to guard – and commercial contractors do not come cheap.
To claim self-defence would seem to require significantly less resources than to effectively enact it, however, the deployment, adornment and/or brandishing of technologies of self-defence works to enhance the functionality of some claims over others. By this I mean to say, that the deployment, adornment and brandishing of technologies of self-defence is the most effective method of claiming the right. Claiming and enacting self-defence does not prescribe whether one will be successful, however, to claim self-defence without or with hampered access to the technologies that can enhance the potential for a successful defence can hardly be considered to be an effective claim.
The legal and emotional consequences of this trial are not likely to extend beyond those most immediately involved in it. However, it will be exceedingly interesting to see how both the prosecution and the defence determine whether the Blackwater contractors legitimately acted in self-defence. It will be even more interesting and meaningful to see if the prosecution or the defence deploy methods of determination that either mitigate or exacerbate the inequitable/discriminatory access to and enactment of self-defence.
I am not hopeful for the latter, but even so, this trial will serve as a minute demonstration of the mutability and contingence of the so-called immutability and inherency of the right of self-defence. Recognizing the mutability and contingence of the right to self-defence is a first step towards conceptualizing and codifying a practice that is more globally minded, i.e., a practice which is non-exclusionary.
On June 6 , 2014 the corporate ownership of Academi, which is the current name of the private military and security company (PMSC) that began its operational life as Blackwater, merged with The Constellis Group, which is a group of companies that includes the PMSC Triple Canopy, to form Constellis Holdings Inc. Now this is an admittedly niche news story to discuss for my first post to the Calgary Centre for Global Community blog, but this corporate merger does mean and reveal some rather interesting things about the contemporary governance of (post-)conflict spaces. For instance, with this merger, Constellis Holdings becomes the key commercial provider of security guards for the United States’ Department of State (DOS), particularly for protective services in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Beyond the potential for better looking balance sheets, Constellis’ position as a key provider of security guards to the DOS signals the continued import of commercially sourced services to the day-to-day going-ons of (post-)conflict spaces. Protective services, i.e. armed guarding of persons, places and things, have in recent history been thoroughly scrutinized by academic, media, government and civil-society investigators and analysts - with due cause. During the mid-2000s in Afghanistan and Iraq, PMSCs under contract to the DOS committed and were alleged to have committed a litany of egregious, unethical and illegal activities of which Blackwater were front and centre. The problems with Blackwater’s operations in Iraq became so troubling that the PMSC was ordered to leave the country in 2010. Although the exploits of commercially sourced armed men are a significant feature of the recent historical/contemporary landscape of (post-)conflict spaces the operations of and services provided by PMSCs extend far beyond protective services. Indeed the homepage for The Constellis Group boasts that its “family of businesses” provide “complementary security, support and advisory services” to a range of clients “working in challenging environments worldwide”. Such services include risk-assessment and mitigation, materiel transport and logistics, project management and consulting and market research, which in the case of Strategic Social involves in-depth socio-cultural research.
The clientele of PMSCs are also not limited to the military, diplomatic, development or intelligence apparatus of nation-states. Multinational corporations, especially those involved in the resource and logistics sector, aid and development non-governmental organizations as well as private individuals have all and continue to seek the services of PMSCs. This diverse array of services and clientele also ensures that PMSCs operate, whether corporately or in the field, on every continent save for Antarctica and recruit their contractors from and through global labour markets. As Rita Abrahamsen and Michael Williams point out in their influential book Security Beyond the State PMSCs are representative of as well as an integral productive aspect of the agential and structural changes that have effected how (post-)conflict spaces are governed over the past fourteen years. Accordingly, the contemporary governance of (post-)conflict spaces involves a complex arrangement of political, economic, military and security relations amongst globally influential and locally effectual agents and structures alike. PMSCs serve as both the vessels and in the case of the individual contractors the literal bodies through which other agents express and enact global influence and local effect. PMSCs themselves must also be recognized as influential and effectual agents and not simply for egregious, unethical and illegal activities.
Likewise the global and local rearrangements of political, economic, military and security relations brought on by processes of globalization, neo-liberalization, securitization and digitization are readily manifested by and through the work of PMSCs. This work most readily seeks to increase the security, mobility, functionality, efficiency and profitability of certain people, resources and finances. By increasing security, mobility, functionality, efficiency and profitability the work of PMSCs extends the influence the aforementioned processes not only in (post-)conflict spaces, but less violate locales as well. For instance, the global daily dependence on oil and other fossil fuel based products is utterly dependent upon the work of PMSCs particularly in Northern and Western Africa and the Persian Gulf. The formation of Constellis Holdings Inc. may only garner interest from the financial media and thus be of niche interest to investors or subject matter experts. It, as asserted in this post, can also serve as significant reminder of the complex arrangements of global and local structures and agents that are involved in the governance of contemporary (post-)conflict spaces.