Contractors: Issue du Jour

While the mainstream media and the blogosphere return to the topic of contractors, undoubtedly we'll hear more about their accountability, or the apparent lack of it. I have talked about accountability of private military companies before, including a recent comparison with UN Peacekeepers, but neither of those posts really mentioned the other aspect of deniable accountability: what happens when the contractors are captured?

In Iraq, we have the famous example of the Blackwater contractors in Fallujah in 2004 that brought on the terrific response -- against the local military commanders' recommendations -- that contributed to changing the nature of the conflict. In Colombia, we have the other extreme: contractors held hostage for years with little to no action by the US Government.

Robert Young Pelton has heard from a little bird that when Colombian President Alvaro Uribe releases FARC prisoners in the next two weeks, Tom Howes, Marc Gonsalves, and Keith Stansell will be released as well. These contractors, left by the US after their plane was shot down, are apparently still alive, according to a Colombian hostage that recently escaped.

This is a true example of deniable accountability: deny you have any responsibility for them.