Book Discussion “Outsourcing War and Peace”: Too Much Jurisdiction? – Contractor Liability After Brehm and Ali
[Steve Vladeck is Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Scholarship at American University Washington College of Law.]
This is the third day in our discussion of Professor Dickinson’s book Outsourcing War and Peace: Preserving Public Values in a World of Privatized Foreign Affairs. Links to the related posts can be found below.
One needn’t look far for proof that the issues raised by Laura Dickinson’s Outsourcing War and Peace with regard to the absence of liability for military contractors are at the forefront of contemporary law and policy. If outsourcing is here to stay, then it seems only right to ask how we might ameliorate some of the concerns that such privatization raises. And although I think Deborah Pearlstein is exactly right to link the problems of contractor liability to the broader “waning public accountability for national security and military affairs more generally,” the specifics also matter, since a host of recent legal developments have focused on the case for (or against) contractor accountability as such. To that end, Professor Dickinson, who champions the need for greater civil and criminal liability, already noted last Friday’s decision by the en banc Fourth Circuit in the al-Shimari case concerning whether victims of torture at Abu Ghraib can pursue state law tort claims against the military contractors allegedly at fault (for now, they can). And we should hear soon from the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which heard argument in April in United States v. Ali on the question whether the Constitution allows the military to court-martial civilian contractors accompanying U.S. forces in the field during overseas “contingency operations.”
But for all the attention that al-Shimari and Ali have received from observers like Professor Dickinson, I want to suggest in this post that we would do well to also consider United States v. Brehm—a less-noticed appeal argued yesterday before a three-judge Fourth Circuit panel—as a reason to search for nuance in the quest for a coherent approach to contractor liability.