The emergence of private actors has become increasingly an element of the post-Cold War world. It is this political entity and its connection with security issues that, especially in recent years, provokes heavy debates in public, in think tanks and the very centres of power. New questions arise whose core interest is mainly the role of security, which is traditionally under state’s responsibility but threatens to erode under the formation of new private authorities. Existing boundaries of power, security and responsibility are blurring, while new spaces are created – administrated by new actors. Maybe it is time to revise Max Weber’s conception of state, in which he refers to it as having the capacity to claim “the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”. We need to come to ask ourselves if this traditional notion of statehood still exists or if state responsibilities are now taken over by private actors and, if so, what are the consequences of these developments?
In an interview with our magazine, the Washington Post-correspondent Steve Fainaru, who has been awarded in 2008 with the Pulitzer Price in the category “International Reporting”, speaks about his experience of being in Iraq, working with private agencies and living across boundaries.
Powision: Mr. Fainaru, how many times did you end up going to Iraq?
Fainaru: Well, I started going in the fall of 2004 and I finished in the fall of 2007, but there were long periods of time were I didn’t go at all and so I’ve been off and on. I probably went about ten times.
Powision: You’ve been with the army at first and I heard a lot of other journalists, too. Mostly they can cover stories inside the army but it’s not that easy to have outside stories on the “real Iraq”. You had another view when you went out, but did you felt secure all the time? How can we imagine this?
Fainaru: No not always, but we had our own security guys. We had our own private security people we hired and they would take us around. So they certainly made us feel more secure, but totally secure? – No!
Powision: To me it seems very difficult: You write about these security guys, the “bad guys” who possibly were kicked out of the army and then again you need them to keep yourself secure?
Fainaru: You know, most of the people who do this work are totally honourable. They got out of the military and they had the opportunity to make a ton of money in private companies, by doing something that they knew how to do and enjoyed doing. So it isn’t like being around the “bad guys”. And those who protected us were Iraqis, they were former Iraqi military.
Powision: How large is the capacity of private armies on the ground?
Fainaru: Nobody knows…that’s the thing.
Powision: Generally the media speaks of about 20.000 U.S. security guards on the ground. Is this number sufficient?
Fainaru: People use that number 20.000 but the numbers are not precise and you know, people have said any more between 20.000 and 100.000 and no one knows. I believe it’s probably between 30.000 and 50.000.
Powision: Is there any legal ground that restricts actions of private soldiers? In your lecture, you talked about Blackwater, nowadays called Blackwater Worldwide, the biggest American private military company you said, that there is no legal ground, in other words a real law to control these guys?
Fainaru: Not at the moment. The Iraqi government is not able to prosecute them while the U.S. government is not sure how to prosecute them – provided that they wanted to. I think it’s a combination of two problems. One is that nobody really knows what laws there are – I mean there aren’t any laws – and the other problem is – and I think this is actually the bigger problem – that even if there were laws, who would enforce them? The U.S. military and the state department, at least of what they have shown so far, seem to have no interest in actually enforcing these laws. There have been so many incidences in Iraq where security contractors have been involved in questionable shooting and there hasn’t been anybody prosecuted. That suggests to me that there is not the willingness to even try.
Powision: So there aren’t any limits at all for private companies? They can just interact and interfere however they like?
Fainaru: There are no limits, there are no rules at least that I know of. Some people will claim that they could be prosecuted under U.S. law but if that’s true it has never really been tested. Maybe there are laws and people will say there are certain laws, like the contractors law in the United States that applies to contractors who are connected to military. However, no private security contractor has ever been prosecuted under that law. There is also the military law and the military will tell you that at least some of the private security contractors can be prosecuted. But if that’s true, they haven’t done it yet.
Powision: Aren’t there conflicts arising between the U.S. army and the private agencies, because, while the latter can do whatever they want, the former has certain rules to obey?
Fainaru: Exactly there are a lot of conflicts. For example a private security team will get involved in a shooting and imagine they shoot somebody and then people will get angry about that and they will take it out on the military. So the military has to come in and clean up the “mess”. I think there is a lot of stuff around this.
Powision: So, what does the military personnel think about the private companies? Are they completely against these private agencies? Do they go as far as saying those mercenaries are not real soldiers?
Fainaru: It is mixed because all of these guys were in the military themselves. Some people think they are just doing jobs. They are paid for things they have learned in the military. Then there are other people who are having thoughts like: “They aren’t real military, they shouldn’t be doing these jobs, they get in our way, they’re over paid etc.” I don’t think one can make a clear cut.
Powision: I’m imagining the situation in Iraq as most chaotic. Do they sometimes attack each other, by accident?
Fainaru: Well, sometimes the military and the private security will accidentally attack each other. In fact, one of four guys I’ve been with who worked for a private company, but not Blackwater, got in a friendly fire incident and one of the guys was killed by the army.
Powision: In your articles you targeted the conflict of private security versus state sovereignty. You said that the control should be mostly in the hand of the government. So what would be your suggestion to address that, since boundaries between states and private authorities are blurring?
Fainaru: Well, of course it is complicated. On the one hand the decision of who can kill and die for my country seems to me a fundamental governmental function. Taking that responsibility, which is the most sober and important responsibility a government has, and to put that in the control of a private company is a very, very dangerous thing. At the same time I think that there are situations where the private security contractors can do things, the governments are unwilling to do. Like, for example, the genocide in Rwanda. The U.S. government, the United Nations and the European governments were all seemingly incapable or unwilling to step in and stop that from happening – you could have hired Blackwater. Blackwater would have gladly done it and could have done it. – They want to do it in Darfur now. So would you rather have 500.000 people killed in Rwanda because you are uncomfortable of hiring a legionary or would you rather have those people saved? I’d rather have those people saved. And that is what I think most people would have said. I am not willing to say that private security is an evil thing. But what it became in Iraq was fundamentally counter to what the United States were trying to do. It was mortally destructive in the way it was set up. That’s basically my position which I think is a little bit more nuanced.
Powision: You mentioned Rwanda; wouldn’t you say that the intervention of a private company is less a solution of the root causes than that it postpones the conflict? And isn’t it dangerous to introduce a private (business) company in such an unstable environment?
Fainaru: It is complicated. Introducing a foreign body into any country is complicating things enormously. It’s been proven particularly in Africa that governments in the developed world are unwilling to step in and prevent people from killing each other – for whatever reason. So, if there are companies who are saying that they are willing to step in and stop violence and prevent human rights atrocities from happening, I am for it. However, in Iraq Blackwater got out of control. The state department lost its responsibility to stay on top of the company and to deal with it when it was committing questionable acts. I know that raises all kinds of new questions but at the same time to me it is fundamental: dead or alive. Rwanda and Darfur are good examples that somebody has to go in and prevent the people from killing each other and innocent civilians. And who wouldn’t want that?
Powision: So, we can conclude by saying that private actors are a trend, like the business trend to outsource everything. Privatization has become a normal feature of our global world. Do you think it is a world wide trend to outsource, privatize armies?
Fainaru: It certainly seems to be a trend, most certainly for the US. There are Chinese mercenaries operating in Africa who are protecting financial interests. People want to have their interests protected and they are moving into relatively unstable environments For example, if you want to drill for oil in Nigeria, you know in forehand that it is a violent, kind of a lawless place. You just can not count on the Nigerian government to protect you. Hence you hire outside and you outsource it. Probably there will be a lot of outsourcing in Iraq because as the U.S. pulls out, the business interests are still there. They will be drilling for oil and getting involved in telecommunication and they will need protection, so they will turn to the private security companies.
Powision: How difficult was the work as a journalist within the private soldiers? Weren’t they suspicious towards you? Wondering what you are going to write? Like: “Is it going to be a bad story again?”
Fainaru: I think a lot of people were and still are suspicious. Frankly, I made a lot of people angry with some of the stuff that I wrote and I’m still making people angry. But the things I wrote are obviously true and supported by facts. Of course the private security companies want to ultimately regulate themselves and they are like everyone else, they protect their own interest. What I was pointing out in my articles was obvious to a lot of those people I talked with, but it is still painful for some of them to read. I usually try to be honest with people. So I tell them what I’m going to write before I do so. That was certainly true in this case; hence I don’t think anybody picked up the paper surprised, which does not mean that they were happy about it.
Powision: How was it in particular with those four guys, you talked about, did you cross the boundary from journalist to being a friend?
Fainaru: I think some people would argue that I did. Some people would argue that I crossed the line.
Powision: Mr. Fainaru, thank you for the interview.
Das Gespräch führte Benita S. Krebs