Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Licensed to Kill by Robert Young Pelton

Subtitled “Hired Guns in the War on Terror.” Pelton is an travel-adventure-journalist better known for his series on “The World’s Most Dangerous Places.” In this illuminating bit of journalism on the rise of private mercenary armies, like Blackwater, Executive Outcomes, or Triple Canopy, Pelton explores the world of the private military contractor, from Baghdad to Central Africa.

Some fascinating details: Contractors, primarily made up of former special forces, SAS, or police officers, are usually hired by private firms to provide security in guarding fixed position installations (offices, etc.) or security for transporting goods. These guys are armed to the teeth, paid well, and subject to virtually no governmental oversight. As a result, there are likely as many as 100,000 private mercenary soldiers at large in the world, who report only to the highest bidder. Some companies, like Eric Prince’s Blackwater, operate hand-in-hand with the US Federal Government. Others, like Sandline or Executive Outcomes can be employed for far more nefarious purposes, like overthrowing governments in Equatorial Guinea, or seizing diamond mines in Sierra Leone. In this shadowy world, civilian deaths are common (particularly in Africa and Iraq) and contractors are held to no legal standards, and no moral standards but whatever they bring in with them. It’s a fascinating brave-new-world of steroid monkies and ex-cops toting automatic weapons, armored vehicles, and private gunships in some of the world’s least stable places for fantastic sums of money.

Pelton does a good job of keeping relatively neutral on the topic, neither condemning nor deifying the cowboy contractors. He poses thoughtful questions about the role of such large corporate armies in nation building. Interesting book.

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