Mercenaries: Soldiers Who Fight For Money

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has been accused of deploying foreign mercenaries against anti-government fighters in that country's ongoing civil war. Jose Luis Gomez del Prado, chairman of the United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, talks about the role of mercenaries.

NEAL CONAN, host:

According to widespread reports, pro-Gadhafi forces in Libya include mercenaries recruited from other African nations. Loosely defined, a mercenary is a soldier who fights for money rather than a cause or from loyalty or obligation to country. They're usually ex-soldiers hired as bodyguards, though they have also been used in war.

Jose Luis Gomez del Prado is a chairman of the U.N. Working Group on mercenaries, and joins us on the line from his home near Geneva, Switzerland.

And nice to have you today on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. JOSE LUIS GOMEZ Del PRADO (Chairman, United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries): Good afternoon.

CONAN: And who is the modern mercenary?

Mr. Del PRADO: Modern mercenaries - well, you see, what you have now is a mixture of private contractors, security guards, soldiers of fortune, guns for hire, employees of private military and companies because private military and security companies now are the modern reincarnation of a long lineage of private providers of physical force. The use of mercenaries in the centuries before are being replaced now more and more by the employees of private military and security companies, and they do the same thing.

Mercenaries in the 15, 16, 17th century, they were there to protect kings and popes. For instance, Louis XVI, when he was in Versailles and there was a revolution, he was protected by Swiss mercenaries. Now what you have is the same thing. Generals - United States generals in Iraq, President Karzai in Afghanistan, they are protected not by mercenaries, but by employees of private military and security companies.

So now you have a mixture of, yes, of mercenaries which are soldiers for hire, but also of employees that are private contractors that they - they have the experience because they have been former military or former CIA agents or former policemen, and they are there for - also to be employed by private military and security companies.

CONAN: What do we know about the alleged use of mercenaries in Libya?

Mr. Del PRADO: In Libya, yes. There is - I think it's a mixture of all those things. You see, Gadhafi has been contracting for a long time. We have some information, scattered information, but some information that, for several years, he has been contracting private military and security companies to train his private guard, his Praetorian Guard, his Arab-like legion. And he has contracted the best of the best.

For instance, two years ago, there was a scandal with a private military and security company in Germany because there were some commandos that have contracted these employees in a contract - with a contract with Gadhafi to train his private guard. And this was unknown by the Germans, by the government. And those were policemen in the commandos for - the best commandos that you can imagine for anti-terrorist actions. And they just took a holiday, and they went to Libya to train the Gadhafi Praetorian Guard.

But there are many, many Africans that had been - that are now without jobs, but they have been in many wars, in the Congo's war, in Rwanda, in Chad wars, in Sierra Leone, and that they are unemployed. And many of them, they are from Tuaregs, you know? That there is a tribe that these - in - which is scattered in several countries in - it's in Libya, but it's also in Chad, in Sudan, there is in Niger, Mali, even in Algeria. And it's possible that many of those Tuaregs have been contracted by, you know, Gadhafi. There is also some information that there would be an Israeli private military and security company that is contracting mercenaries for Gadhafi.

CONAN: And the use of these mercenaries, why does the U.N. get involved?

Mr. Del PRADO: Why we get involved? Because they affect - they have an impact in many, many, many issues. But particularly - and this is why I am involved -it has an impact in the violation of human rights. For instance, in Libya, these mercenaries, with the troops of Gadhafi, they have been violating human rights. They have been - there are persons who would disappear. There are persons that have been tortured. There are persons that have been arbitrary detained, et cetera, et cetera. So there are a number of violations of human rights that, for Libya itself, it can amount to crimes against humanity. So this is why the U.N. is involved in this issue with mercenaries, but also with private military and security companies.

You Americans, you remember about Blackwater, what they have been doing in Iraq and how they had been violating human rights, assassinating people there in Iraq but also in prisons. Not only Blackwater, but also in the prison of Abu Ghraib, there were the private security companies that are going both. In addition of the militaries, there are the prisons. CACI and Titan was involved - employees of those two private security companies that were involved in torture.

CONAN: And has the United Nations brought allegations or charges against anybody, either U.S. contractors in Iraq or...

Mr. Del PRADO: We have - yes, we have put - we have exerted a lot of pressure on the U.S. government for this issue. And we have been formal in these violations. We have been writing the U.S. government. We have been visiting the - your country and raising these issues with the Ministry of Justice, with the State Department, with Pentagon and with - even with the Congress. These are issues which are very important and that these private military and security companies should be regulated because they are unregulated.

There is a - in your Congress, there is an act that has been studied but has not passed about the outsourcing act of - and it was introduced in 2007 and it didn't pass. And it has been reintroduced now in 2010. And I don't know what is the issue, but apparently the are many, many interests because it's a big industry. It's a big, big - unfortunately, it's a big industry. A lot of many involved. And there are a lot of lobbyists there that make pressure so that there is no regulation of the international law. But not only at the international level, at the national level also.

CONAN: And have you had success of having such laws passed in other countries?

Mr. Del PRADO: Pardon me?

CONAN: Have you had any success in getting such laws passed in other countries in reducing the use of mercenaries?

Mr. Del PRADO: We are trying to put - we have elaborated because we have the -you see, for mercenaries, there is a definition and which is very difficult to really - to put the criterias are very high and very difficult to put to these private military and security companies, employees. And this is the vacuum that exists in international law. So what we have done is elaborate a new convention, and this is under the discussion now. And we hope, very much, that the United States and other countries from Western countries will be really involved in these discussions at the United Nations. Because up to now, they have been very reluctant, reluctant about our work, reluctant about the things that we are doing and reluctant about any regulatory thing work for private and military and security companies.

CONAN: A lot of people might reject the comparison of security forces hired by the U.S. State Department to protect diplomats in Baghdad with mercenary forces hired by Colonel Gadhafi in Libya.

Mr. Del PRADO: Yes, there is a difference, I admit, but the line is very thin. The line, I'm telling you, is very, very thin because - and this is where the -there is a gray line because what they are doing - mercenaries, what they used to do, is to protect, as I was telling you, kings, popes, et cetera. And this is the same as they are doing, employees of private military and security companies.

They are protecting the President Karzai. They are protecting generals of the United States in Iraq, ambassadors, et cetera, et cetera. And they are not in combat. But if they are attacked, and sometimes when they feel that they are threatened, they can - they pass the line. So this is the - the line is very, very thin.

And particularly, in some situations, you know, there is no line. When there are insurgents, there is no line between passive, where they say what is passive protection and active involvement. So this is - and this is why it needs to be regulated.

CONAN: As - in the situations, perhaps, like we're seeing now in Libya, but earlier, you mentioned troops, mercenary troops, being used in wars in places like Chad and Congo. Have charges been brought against any of those individuals?

Mr. Del PRADO: There is only one occasion that there were charges involved about - against mercenaries, yeah. There are charges that have been involved against private contractors, security guards now in recent years. For mercenaries, there have been - because of the difficulty to apply the definition - the international law definition - the difficulty is tremendous, and this is why we resorted to have a new convention and - which is much clear.

It's not about a definition of the person, but is the - what you are doing, the act that you are committing. So this is the - because it's extremely difficult to say, for instance, and this is why there was this vacuum.

You see these private contractors, they are contracted to provide passive protection, you see? And the moment that they commit, for instance a violation of human rights, in the contract, they were only - you cannot apply that they are mercenaries because in the definition, you have to be there to be involved in direct conflict. And this is one of the elements, but there are many of the elements that - for what you cannot apply and you cannot bring mercenaries to a court, to a tribunal.

CONAN: And if you were looking for one area where you might break through, would it be the adoption of a new convention about the use of military force in combat?

Mr. Del PRADO: No. It - what we are trying to do is to delineate the functions that can be outsourced. And those functions, they cannot be outsourced because they are inherently state functions. And they are so close to the sovereignty of the state by definition that the state, a sovereign state, is a state that has the monopoly of the use of force.

And this is something that you cannot contract out. And those functions are being, now, more and more contracted out; or if you want the American term, outsourced, to the private sector. So this new convention or this new instrument would really need the things that can be outsourced and the things that - the functions that cannot be outsourced because they are inherently state functions.

And this is, more or less, what the Congress - some representatives of the Congress of the United States are trying to do at the national level and we are trying to do at the international level.

CONAN: Jose Luis Gomez del Prado, thank you very much for your time.

Mr. Del PRADO: Thanks to you.

CONAN: Jose Luis Gomez del Prado chairs a United Nations working group on the use of mercenaries, and he joined us by phone from his home near Geneva. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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