After the collapse of the Berlin Wall when militaries seemingly
shrank in size, many military personnel from around the globe
became part of the privatized military industry (PMI). PMI has
grown to operate in more than 50 nations, generating over $100
billion in revenue annually. With a growing military presence
around the world, recruitment difficulties, and public policy
determined by war profiteers, the U.S. has become the largest
consumer of PMI of any nation. While the official number of private
contractors in Iraq has been recorded at 20,000, which represents
15% of the troop strength, this figure only accounts for security
contractors, those who “carry arms.” Recent estimates
of all private contractors have been as high as 100,000. Clearly,
private contractors are essential for operations in Iraq, and
U.S. military projects are fueling this growing business.
Since the mid 1990s, PMI has been one of the fastest growing
industries. Military downsizing, smaller scale conflicts, and
the ideological push toward privatization have contributed to
the industry’s growth. The U.S. has used private contractors
in the small “peace-keeping” conflicts at the U.S.-Mexico
border, to train militaries in Latin America for the “war
against drugs,” and for an array of duties in Iraq, including
transportation, security, construction, food service, housing,
laundry, and other non-combat jobs that support military operations.
Contractors for these security and other essential services come
from various countries around the world. Many security officials
now working in Iraq were once trained by the United States. Another
source is elite security personnel who previously worked under
such notables as the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile,
the war criminal Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia, and military
officials in El Salvador. Former apartheid special forces from
South Africa make up the largest number of armed security personnel
in Iraq. In fact, Aegis Defense Systems, originally formed in
the 1980s as Executive Outcomes by South African military elites,
won a $1.8 billion contract to coordinate all other private security
companies in Iraq.
Sometimes trained by the U.S. in repressive war tactics, private
contractors allow the government to circumvent international law
that protects civilians and enemies during war. For example, in
Iraq confusion arises because private contractors are neither
bound by local laws nor are they technically considered soldiers.
In another case in 1998, while under contract to the U.S. military
to spray toxic herbicide over fields in Bosnia (without regard
to the devastating consequences on the villagers below), personnel
of the U.S.-based DynCorp were caught trafficking sex slaves,
but no charges were made. The advantage to the government, and
the problem for everyone else, is that private firms remain unaccountable
to anyone, even for the most egregious behavior. In Abu Ghraib,
for example, PMIs were contracted to translate for interrogators
but were later implicated in abuse, torture, execution, and rape
of prisoners without facing any sanctions.
Another little-known aspect of PMI is the use of contractors
from developing countries. While some individuals can make up
to $1,000 a day working for a military firm, other contracted
workers make much less. Coming primarily from Nepal, the Philippines,
and Bangladesh, but also from Latin America, these private contractors
are paid low wages and work in the most dangerous conditions,
usually performing grunt work such as cooking, serving, and cleaning.
While it may appear that workers from the poorest nations put
themselves in harm’s way only because they are in need of
money, there have been widespread reports that many of these people
are intentionally misled and abused by labor brokers, who find
the jobs and move laborers from base to base. Often workers are
promised a non-dangerous zone to work. They take loans to pay
for their travel, but in many cases their brokers then inform
them that their assignments have changed and they end up in Iraq.
Because they owe money, many are trapped there, becoming modern-day
The danger to these low-paid contracted workers is clear. Individuals
doing menial labor account for one-third of the 255 contractors
reported killed in Iraq since March 2003. There is little protection
of these workers’ rights. The dangerous conditions have
caused the governments in the Philippines and Nepal to forbid
their citizens to work in Iraq, but labor brokers still get contracts
through loopholes. For example, the Los Angeles Times
reported that even after their government’s disapproval,
there are more than 5,000 Nepalese working in Iraq.
PMI has been used by the United States since the war in Vietnam.
However, its exponential growth in recent years must bring us
to ask questions about the ways in which wars are being fought.
Few Americans realize that the war in Iraq would not be possible
without the labor of people from the Philippines, Chile, or Nepal.
The “coalition forces” could not sustain the U.S.
occupation without these contractors. The use of PMI demonstrates
clearly that markets are more important than workers’ rights
or democratic accountability for yet another U.S. neocolonial
Information sources: “Privatised war: the South African
connection,” by Salim Vally and Andy Carno, Indymedia South
Africa, March 6, 2005; Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the
Privatized Military Industry, by Peter Singer (Cornell University
Press, 2003); “Iraq's foreign laborers face exploitation,
death,” by Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times,
October 12, 2005; “Lawsuit over 4 slain in Fallujah is crucial;
Civilian contractors in Iraq watch closely,” by Bernard
Debusmann, San Diego-Union Tribune, December 27, 2005.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)