It is interesting to see that the Grand Jury investigation into the Sep 16 shootings by Blackwater continues. What is equally interesting is that following the rush of knee-jerk reactions in Congress to throw legislation at the problem that ‘closed the loophole’ by including contractors to the State Department to the Military Jurisdiction Expeditionary Act, which apparently meant that all contractors would now be covered and accountable under US law. Unfortunately, having satisfied themselves that all was now right with the world, the politicians and their staffs wrenched their arms out of their sockets patting themselves on the back for a job well done….if only that were so.

The strong lesson to be learnt here, which unfortunately will be learnt the hard way, is that the law only covers those companies that are employed by the Government. The attorneys trying to prosecute the September 16 shootings are going to try and prove that although Blackwater was employed by the State Department, the company was acting in support of a military mission. I acknowledge that the law is an ass, but even so – the lawyers are going to be making the argument in a US Court that US foreign policy is led by the military and supported by the political effort, not the other way round; this very rich seam has yet to be mined by the political commentators, but it very much deserves to be.

The military acts in support of the political intent. The State Department pursues that intent, and is supported in doing so in Iraq by the military. In a document passed to the Investigatory Staff of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in early September, I clearly stated the damage that PMCs did to the political, diplomatic and military intent of the US in places like Iraq; September 16 was unwelcome proof of my argument. While the lawmakers’ knee-jerk reactions closed the door, apparently, on misconduct by government-employed companies, it makes no real allowances for those companies that are not acting in support of the government. Yet there are many PMCs that do not hold a government contract at all. Naysayers will point out that the Iraqi Government is responsible for these PMCs, but for a long time the Iraqi Government was too immature to address the issue.

This is a lesson for the future that Congress apparently refuses to learn: PMCs must be accountable from day one, and there must be a system to assure quality. As yet, there is nothing to do either, and unfortunately the next unwelcome lesson will be the employees of an unregulated PMC somewhere doing something is politically hugely counter-productive and that compromises the US’ intent abroad in so many ways, and the Congress will again re-enter the knee-jerk phase.

The US Congress must put in place a system to control the quality of PMCs that have any dealings with the US, and that may affect the US’ ability to achieve its political, diplomatic and military intent. A licensing scheme, operated by a Commission or equivalent body with contributed expertise from the military, Department of Justice and the industry, is the best way of achieving this.