23 Nov Blackwater Assassins Posing as Aid Workers
The Nation has just published an extensive article documenting the “secret war” Blackwater employees have been conducting in Pakistan. The opening grafs:
At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help run a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.
The source, who has worked on covert US military programs for years, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has direct knowledge of Blackwater’s involvement. He spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. The source said that the program is so “compartmentalized” that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.
The entire article is disturbing, but I was particularly struck by the article’s claim that Blackwater assassins have been posing as aid workers in order to maximize their effectiveness:
According to the source, Blackwater has effectively marketed itself as a company whose operatives have “conducted lethal direct action missions and now, for a price, you can have your own planning cell. JSOC just ate that up,” he said, adding, “They have a sizable force in Pakistan–not for any nefarious purpose if you really want to look at it that way–but to support a legitimate contract that’s classified for JSOC.” Blackwater’s Pakistan JSOC contracts are secret and are therefore shielded from public oversight, he said. The source is not sure when the arrangement with JSOC began, but he says that a spin-off of Blackwater SELECT “was issued a no-bid contract for support to shooters for a JSOC Task Force and they kept extending it.” Some of the Blackwater personnel, he said, work undercover as aid workers. “Nobody even gives them a second thought.”
If this is true, the Blackwater employees are almost certainly engaged in acts of perfidy, defined by Article 37 of the First Additional Protocol as “inviting the confidence of an adversary to lead him to believe that he is entitled to, or is obliged to accord, protection under the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, with intent to betray that confidence.” Feigning civilian status is a prototypical example of perfidy.
Blackwater’s pefidious acts could qualify as two different war crimes, depending on where, when, and against whom the assassinations were committed. (I’ll leave the status of the various participants in the various conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan aside for now.) In international armed conflict, Article 8(2)(b)(xi) prohibits “killing or wounding treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army,” while Article 8(2)(b)(vii) prohibits “[m]aking improper use of a flag of truce, of the flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy or of the United Nations, as well as of the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions, resulting in death or serious personal injury.” In non-international armed conflict, Article 8(2)(e)(ix) of the Rome Statute prohibits “[k]illing or wounding treacherously a combatant adversary”; there is no non-international equivalent to Article 8(2)(b)(vii).
If the Blackwater employees attacked combatants while impersonating aid workers, they would be guilty of “killing or wounding treacherously” regardless of the nature of the conflict. If they impersonated the aid workers using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions and caused death or serious injury — a consequence requirement, interestingly, that goes beyond Article 38 of the First Additional Protocol, which simply prohibits misuse — they would be guilty of “making improper use” as long as the conflict qualified as international.
The ICC has jurisdiction over war crimes committed in Afghanistan. (Pakistan has signed but not ratified the Rome Statute.) Ken and I have discussed before — see here and here — the possibility that the ICC will investigate such crimes. If it does, the actions of the Blackwater employees should certainly be on its list of targets: the prohibition of perfidy is fundamental to international humanitarian law, because combatants who make use of perfidy, especially in the form here, dramatically increase the likelihood that civilians and aid workers will be targeted during a conflict. I don’t expect better of Blackwater, which has demonstrated its contempt for civilian lives before. But I certainly expect the international community to do something about it.
HAT-TIP: Una Vera at Change.Org’s new blog, War and Peace.