military outsourcing

Slate has an interesting article about the increasing use of military contractors in Iraq and the problems and questions that arise as a result:

The first set of problems arises from the legal status of contractors. Armed contractors – like the four men ambushed in Fallujah last week – fall into an international legal gray zone. They aren’t “noncombatants” (as unarmed contractors are) under the 4th Geneva Convention, because they carry weapons and act on behalf of the U.S. government. However, they’re also not “lawful combatants” under the 3rd Geneva Convention, because they don’t wear uniforms or answer to a military command hierarchy. These armed contractors don’t even fit the legal definition of mercenaries, because that definition requires that they work for a foreign government in a war zone, in which their own country isn’t part of the fight. Legally speaking, they actually fall into the same gray area as the unlawful combatants detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

(Note: the definition of “mercenary” in this case is a legal one, pertaining to international law. It doesn’t make it incorrect for someone to refer to these people as “mercenaries” in a more casual vernacular.)