The Pitfalls of Sub-Contracting Security
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
Mike, thanks very much for being with us again.
MIKE HEIDINGSFIELD: Thank you for having me again.
SIMON: How different are what we call the rules of engagement that a private contractor has from those of the military? And do they sometimes differ from mission to mission or company to company?
HEIDINGSFIELD: So this notion that contractors run amuck throughout Iraq, firing at will and killing people with impunity is certainly not consistent with what I experienced during my - the first 14-month tour there.
SIMON: Who takes responsibility for the actions of private security firms in the end?
HEIDINGSFIELD: Well, that is the ultimate question. I don't think anybody is quite sure of that. In terms of legal accountability, it's very difficult to understand. Of course, the Uniform Code of Military Justice was adjusted, if you will, some six months ago by a slight variation in the language that suggests now that contractors working in concert with the United States military forces in a combat zone fall under the authority, if you will, of the UCMJ. I don't think that's been enforced yet, and it's going to be a very difficult - wicked, if you will, to figure out because they're two entirely different things.
SIMON: Firstly, we ought to note for the record, the vast majority of private contractors who worked in Iraq aren't conducting missions of lethal force. They are cooking and cleaning and that sort of thing and often hiring local civilians, but why are there so many private contractors protecting U.S. personnel in Iraq anyway as opposed to military units?
HEIDINGSFIELD: I think, when you boil it down to the basics, it's a question of numbers. You know, we have a force structure today in the United States Armed Forces that is significantly reduced from 20 years ago. We simply don't have the capacity to provide that protection through the use of military assets.
SIMON: You've spent a lot of time talking to Iraqis on your various - you almost called them deployments, and why not call them deployments, I guess, in Iraq. Do they sometimes get - are they frustrated or simply don't comprehend the whole idea of private contractors?
HEIDINGSFIELD: The rub comes when conditions in Baghdad or in Iraq stymie or impede the ability of the contractors to execute their mission and put the principals at risk. So you end up doing things like driving across medians, going the wrong way against traffic and, obviously, sometimes engaging in the use of firearms. And it's very difficult to reconcile that with the overall strategy of trying to win the hearts and minds of people.
SIMON: Thanks very much for being back with us, Mike.
HEIDINGSFIELD: Thank you.
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