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American Mercenaries Were Hired to Assassinate Politicians in the Middle East (buzzfeednews.com)
307 points by georgecmu on Oct 16, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 236 comments

This is one of the reasons I refused to become a merc after the Corps. I knew guys that were getting payed 160k tax free for this type of stuff, but there was always something deep inside that told me it would not be worth it and that it conflicted with my dedication to the principles of the constitution. I'm glad I stayed away. Eventually the merc business was saturated and the pay dropped dramatically anyway.

Aren't mercenaries also essentially encouraged to be war criminals by the Geneva Convention ironically? They are always unlawful combatants. They receive no protection from it and thus are encouraged to be brutal indirectly. While a seminal work the Geneva Convention had its own politicking embedded within like the bias against expanding rounds which are useful in a situationally tactical and ironically slightly humanitarian way by risking less overpenetration.

There are some good arguments against mercenaries incentive wise as being bad for peace. Ironically Military Industrial Complexes have even worse incentives - an amoral actor (out to maximize gain and indifferent to suffering not inflicting it gratuitously) might want to start a war but it should be one they would win and survive. A MIC with the same lack of morality would care only about generating demand and not victory as seen as early as Civil War profiteers who sold shoddy goods. On the other hand one advantage a MIC has is they are content with cold wars and stockpiling. The underlying problem war for profit is sadly ancient - before there was such a thing as a MIC many would fight openly for the sake of plunder and profit.

They’re not necessarily unlawful combatants, it really depends on the specific circumstances. The Geneva Conventions contain a few loopholes. For example, if the United States is a participating party in the conflict, US citizens are not unlawful combatants, even if they aren’t affiliated with the US armed forces.

hollow points are banned by the hague conventions, not geneva, and notably the us did not actually sign that section.

it is sort of silly though. if i understand correctly, hollow points are not terribly useful in a typical military engagement because they are easily stopped by body armor. modern military rounds like 5.56 are designed to have a small cross-sectional area at impact to penetrate armor.

Sort of. The U.S. signed Article III, but not IV. III is the section that prohibits expanding bullets, and IV limits the prohibition to conflicts between signatories. So it's clear that the U.S. is bound by Hague, but it's also arguably clear that Hague doesn't apply to any conflict that the U.S. has been involved in in the past decade.

Terminal ballistics is the mother of all holy wars. There are undending arguments over caliber, weight, soft point vs. hollow point vs. JHP, etc. Expanding bullets pretty useless against body armor, but so are pistols in general, because AFAIK the U.S. military doesn't issue armor-piercing pistol ammunition. Besides, any sort of infantry engagement will rely on 5.56 rifles, and the standard M855/M855A1 ammo, while not strictly defined as "armor piercing", does contain a steel penetrator and is quite effective against body armor at close-ish ranges.

Nevertheless, the U.S. military very much believes in the usefulness of hollow points in urban/CQ environments, and in fact the Army is now issuing hollow point bullets for the M17 and M18 service pistols. Presumably this ammo would not be used in a conflict against uniformed soldiers from a fellow Hague signatory state.

Hollow points are not banned by any convention.

According to the Wikipedia article on expanding bullets [1], "Two typical designs [of expanding bullet] are the hollow-point bullet and the soft-point bullet. [...] The Hague Convention of 1899 [...] prohibits the use of expanding bullets in international warfare"

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Expanding_bullet&...

Wikipedia is wrong on both counts.

Care to elaborate?

From the Hague Convention:

"The Contracting Parties agree to abstain from the use of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover the core, or is pierced with incisions.

The present Declaration is only binding for the Contracting Powers in the case of a war between two or more of them.

It shall cease to be binding from the time when, in a war between the Contracting Parties, one of the belligerents is joined by a non-Contracting Power."

That doesn't describe a hollow point.

It describes a completely different type of round.

That was written primarily to apply to what is often called a "dum dum" bullet.

5.56 (with certain exceptions for things like m855 or armor piercing) is designed to fragment, not expand, and some variants that might appear to be a "hollow point" are actually designed in that way to enhance ballistic performance (OTM).

You're a bit confused on the terminology. "Dum dum" is a old colloquialism for an expanding bullet. Hollow points are a variety of expanding bullet, and the description from the Hague convention article III describes, and is intended to describe, expanding bullets. If it helps, you can look up some photos. For example, look up a photo of a Federal 115gr JHP bullet, one of the most widely used in law enforcement. That big hole in the front ain't for accuracy; it causes the bullet to expand like a mushroom after impact.

Interestingly, just last year the US Army approved the use of expanding bullets in M17 and M18 service pistols (both Sig P320). The issued ammo is Winchester XM1153, and yes, the Army (and everyone else) refers to this as a hollow point round.

EDIT: Also note that the Army disagrees with you; their justification for approving the use of hollow points is not that they're allowed under the Hague Convention, but that U.S. is not bound by it in many cases, such as warfare against irregular fighters, which describes pretty much all military conflicts for the last decade.

I specifically referred to 5.56 OTM, which is designed to operate exactly as I said, not 9mm hollow points, -- although I carried both 5.56 OTM and 9mmJHP in the mid-2000s in Afghanistan in the US military, so the Army's approval is not particularly relevant.

Also "dum dum"is a type of bullet (and I'm old enough to remember) that described a soft lead bullet that often did expand, not a hollow point. Hollow points were not in general use back then though they did exist.

I think I see the source of the confusion. The open-tip ammo you carried in Afghanistan (MK 262, or Black Hills 77gr for us civies) is not hollow point. Nobody calls it hollow point; not the Army, not SOCOM, not match shooters, nobody. So yes, I agree OTM is not covered by Hague Art. III.

But I seem to remember you saying that Hague Art. III doesn't cover HP ammo at all, which is incorrect. If you carried HP ammo in Afghanistan, it was allowed (strictly speaking) because Hague doesn't apply to conflict against irregular fighters. The U.S. military openly acknowledges that Hague prohibits HP ammo in regular warfare between signatories, and that information is everywhere you look if you follow any news or debates about military firearms. For example, the big news about the new M17 isn't the gun, but the fact that HP pistol ammo is now standard-issue, and how the Army addresses Hague Art. III in justifying the change [1].

1 - https://thenewsrep.com/73676/big-story-armys-modular-handgun...

The US Military, in my experience, has never actually applied the Hague convention to hollow points. There may be plenty of legal articles, but practice has been different. I know for a fact socom has been using them since the 80s and maybe before.

Here's an actual legal analysis that explains the ridiculous footing the Hague convention "dumdum bullet" ban (because that's what it was) has: http://www.prep-blog.com/PDF/Hague-Hollow-Points-Berry.pdf

I agree the whole thing is stupid. Every law enforcement officer in the country carries hollow point ammo. I think the military will keep nominally requiring ball ammo the next time we fight a conventional war, but not be too concerned if soldiers mix in some HP now and then. As you point out, not too different than what they already do.

Bring back letters of marque and writs of assistance?

Just another anecdote: one of my best friends who managed to keep his liberal leanings while serving as a Marine sniper in Iraq, told me he found working for a contractor (forgot which one, but it wasn't Blackwater) for the State Department to have stricter rules of engagement than what he experienced during his tours of duty. The example he gave was a scenario in which he were to spot someone who appeared to be setting up an IED trap on a road. As a Marine, he'd be justified in shooting the suspected insurgent. But as a contractor, he was instructed to avoid conflict (and the ensuing controversy) unless he/the U.S. embassy were facing imminent danger -- so the preferred course of action would be to call in what he saw for someone else to deal with.

Former contractor here: We were armed 24x7 and had VERY restrictive, defensive only ROE. I slept with a loaded VZ58 next to my bed for years. We drove around armed and wearing body armor whenever we left a compound or base.

Our supervisors, the organization which employed our company, and their senior management were exceedingly clear that we were only authorized to aim or discharge a weapon in self defense.

People reading articles like this may get the idea that the vast army of "contractors" which were shuffling around Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2003-2011 time frame were somehow in offensive roles. Even Blackwater had a fairly restrictive ROE. The actual number of contractors who were in any way proactively engaged in combat operations, usually embedded with an organization with the ANA or ANP, I would estimate at about 1% of the contractor population total.

The remaining 99% were confined to a strictly defensive ROE. Nobody wanted to piss away their $170k a year, nearly tax free job because they'd mistaken something that wasn't a threat, for an actual threat.

VBIED, BBIED and other threats to vehicles while driving around are not going to be solved by shooting at people anyways.

In the entire multi year time period that I spent in operational areas, not a single person from the company that I worked for ever discharged a weapon, for any reason, outside of the shooting range.

May I ask what’s ROE?

Rules of Engagement -- general orders about how to evaluate when it is acceptable to use violent force.

There was a movie with that title. I haven't watched it but it always comes to mind because "engagement" was translated to Spanish as "compromiso", as if you buy a ring to the enemy or try to reach a deal with them like "ok, shoot me but only from 9 to 5" :)

Rules of engagement

The ROE is stipulated in the contract if it’s not troop supplement or “combat advisory” the ROE will be very restrictive especially on the protection details contracts they are often not allowed to engage even at the clear signs of hostile action as long as it’s not targeted at them or US personnel.

As in they can witness a whole village being razed and wouldn’t be allowed to fire a single shot whilst a soldier would be compelled to engage and for the most part an order not to do so will likely be an illegal one.

I found this and your follow-up comments to be very interesting. I wonder if I could ask you to comment on the psychology of men who do this. Do they feel fear? Do they experience guilt or contrition? If so, how do they manage these feelings? I guess it’s neurological outliers who self-select for these jobs. Whilst I have met a few security contractors over the years, I’ve never had the courage to ask them about their motivations and inner experience. I also realize that hit squads like this are a world away from the more regular experience of arranging security patrols of oil installations, but it’s apecifically these more atypical people I wonder about.

Of course these types of people feel fear. Some more than others, some less. It depends on their training, and temperament, and the situation. Even in a combat unit it's highly likely at least one person is going to curl up into a ball and piss themselves while crying. Then there are the guys who run through a hail of bullets...

I think of it like Heraclitus; “Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn't even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”

In the modern context, what equals out those numbers is largely training and muscle memory, so that once your adrenaline kicks in and your brain isn't fully functioning, you still know what needs to be done and can do it almost on autopilot. That can turn more of the 80 into the 9, so to speak, which is what a modern military needs.

I love that Heraclitus quote and it’s interesting to hear how training turns “targets” into “fighters”.

However, I still wonder about the psychology of the mercenary asassin. Who are they, what stories do they tell themselves to justify their actions and does the 160k buy them peace of mind?

No one calls them mercenaries and 160k is on the low end for PSD work, let alone what is described in this article.

160k is actually on the high end for PSD work now, with the contractor total staff numbers in Iraq/Afghanistan down to maybe 5-10% of what they were during the peak around 2007-2009. There are A LOT of guys out there who have 1, 2 or 3 years of experience doing something PSD related during the peak contractor-staff periods of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, who are back in the US doing very normal things right now.

The salaries they're paying for US Citizen guards at the US Embassy in Kabul are around $90k at present. There's a sufficient number of people who really need the money that they can recruit and fill positions at that figure.

Back when I got out in 07 that was about the going rate, give or take 40k and this is HN, I try not to use acronym bingo on audiences that might not know it. (and not all mercs are on PSD, a subset of the many different functions of a PMC)

> No one calls them mercenaries

The PMCs don't call themselves mercenaries. Everyone else does, though. And it's accurate:

’from Latin mercēnārius (“hired for money")’

> No one calls them mercenaries

They are, though.

> payed 160k tax free

Tax free or after tax? Aren't Americans taxed worldwide?

Combat zone tax exclusion.


Eventually the merc business was saturated and the pay dropped dramatically anyway.

I wonder what would happen if USA completely ends the operations that keep this people busy. How many of them are there? What are they supposed to do then? Office work?

There is a lot more money than that involved. A marine acquaintance mentioned high six figures around 2004 or or so.

You mean $760k I hope? At least that’s how much I see people making.

> it conflicted with my dedication to the principles of the constitution

I imagine being an assassin would conflict there a bit yeah

Hmm. SDE at Facebook for $250K, or life-risking merc in Yemen for $160K albeit tax free. Tough call.

Many of the guys getting that 160 would never be the type to be able to make 250 in SV. Being good at killing doesn't exactly translate well to the civilian world job market... though it is a specialized skillet that not just anybody can do. I'm lucky I had computers as a backup. Many combat vets aren't so lucky and it can make the transition to civilian life very hard.

You might enjoy "Barry", an HBO black comedy series which touches on this topic. The protagonist is a discharged Marine turned civilian hitman who discovers a passion for acting. He encounters a few fellow "killer Marines" who have had issues transitioning to civilian life.

Already watched and loved it. Can't wait for season 2. What's funny? Before the Marine Corps I was in LA to be an actor, headshots and Dennys job and all... the irony of life eh? Now I have scars and am probably too ugly for it, but it's funny to imagine where life could have gone.

There are a lot of ugly actors out there, so no matter what scars you have, don’t let them get in the way of your passion. Heck, get famous and someone will ask for a body mod to look more like you.

> Now I have scars and am probably too ugly for it,

Have you seen Danny Trejo? Like.. he is not the prettiest guy, but I still LOVE him, love his acting and the movies he has been in.

Hey, if Mickey Rourke could have a career....

thank you for that synopsis, i saw just like, a poster for the show, but i had zero clue what it's about. that sounds fantastic.

$160K tax free is more like $300K in California.

You are generally legally required to pay some tax on overseas income of that size. https://www.irs.gov/individuals/international-taxpayers/fore...

You are also generally legally required not to commit federal felonies.

Though tax enforcement is sometimes more vigorous than general criminal enforcement, so I guess the tax angle isn't completely irrelevant.

Combat zone exemption.

That’s the generally, it’s not a long list. https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/combat-zones

Are you serious? That’s what you really take home as an SDE earning 300k??

Many of the top security staff at FB are ex SS and vets. They hire a lot of military.

What does FB mean?


Ex Schutzstaffel?

Different SS, often styled as USSS: https://www.secretservice.gov/

Secret Service, presumably

Clearly. However, given the amount of time since WWII and the fact that the secret service is the only "SS" to be hiring out of in this time period, it's a waste of time being a stickler and pseudo-offended thinking one might be calling people literal Nazis...

Regardless of how unscrupulous FB may or may not be.

That is a very US-centric view though. The poster that mentioned it has an eu domain and given that this is a global site it isn't out of the realm of possibilities that they honestly did not know of the Secret Service.

I agree. I'm from Europe, I've heard about the Secret Service, but I didn't think about them when seeing SS.

Im american, talking about american politics and american companies on an american website based in my home area of silicon valley... i dont think i should be required to think "i wonder how non americans will take this comment" especially given that my expectation of those on HN as being a bit more sophisticated than pedestrian, so im not going to prefilter in that regard.

Note that the $160k is for people with a very different skill set, who might be ex-army rangers or marines, who could be making $30k managing a Waffle House somewhere in middle america otherwise.

In the case of US contractors (PAE, Fluor, Bechtel etc operating in Iraq, Afghanistan) there is also the tax factor, known to all overseas contractors. I am not precise on the dates and figures here, but something like the first $85k of gross income is completely untaxed, if they remain outside of the USA more than 325 days per year. And no state income taxes because they're not a resident of any state.

Something tells me that these guys have 100% of their payroll for whatever they were doing handled domestically within the UAE, and aren't declaring it to the IRS, however.

Or they could get a desk job or warehouse manager job with their security clearance in the US for like $90k.

If their skill set is more on the pointy end of the stick, however, they may not qualify for that.

There's a lot of civilians going around the federal contracting job market who have a few years of experience working as a middle-management fobbit at LSA Anaconda in Iraq, or similar, who will get that job before another applicant who is an ex army ranger who did 5 rotations through Kapisa and Kunar provinces.

Not if it's a warm body desk job that requires a security clearance. A lot of those jobs are fairly up front about informing all the applicants that veterans will be given preference.

"fobbit" means refers to military personnel, so they would be beneficiaries of veteran preferences. How many of those jobs with veteran preference are yet more specific about giving preference to infantry or those who have directly been in combat?

In this case I was referring to administrative/logistical related contractor workers who rarely left base perimeters - who also qualified as fobbits.

Oh look, another "people in the military aren't capable of being succesful outside the military" HN comment. Even if someone was special forces, they could still get a job with law enforcement, any number of govt agencies, personal security, or just change careers to something else.

You should go read some more before you comment, because everything in your post from, prior-military career prospects to the way untaxed income works, is wrong.

Sorry, but you're also misinformed - I spent literally years as a contractor in an active combat area, doing HN-specific things (networking, telecom, Internet infrastructure), I've worked with people from some of the largest US federal contractors in a number of roles. The facts at present are that the sheer number of private contractors that were in place in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004-2011 or so are greatly diminished now.

For every one person that's currently been able to get a new contract under the LOGCAP contract doing stuff at KAF, in the year 2018, there's 19 unemployed people who used to be $160k contractors at KAF who are back in CONUS working ordinary civilian jobs at normal employee rates. Many of them in places where salaries are a lot lower than you would see in California, where you can buy a 3BD house for $130k, somewhere in middle america. Saying that people are working for $30k jobs at Waffle House may be a rhetorical flourish of exaggeration, but it's not very far off the mark if you look at the number of people who used to make $120-165k for Dyncorp who are now working for small town police or sheriffs departments in Kansas or Minnesota, as ordinary cops, for $40-50k.

The US presence in Iraq is presently about 3% to 5% of the size of what it used to be, both in active duty military personnel and number of US-citizen contractors. In Afghanistan, about 5-10% of what it was at its peak. This is why people who used to work for organizations like Dyncorp, ITT-Exelis, Blackwater, Triple Canopy, PAE and others are now going to work for even more shady contracting organizations based in Dubai (like Erik Prince's new company), and end up doing weird things in Yemen, ultimately under the command of the Saudi and UAE militaries.

You've posted several comments that break the site guidelines lately. Could you please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and follow the rules when posting here? Comments need to be civil and substantive, regardless of how misinformed someone is, or seems to be.

How many ex-military folks can pass the FB phone screen, let alone whiteboard? (How many software engineers, for that matter?)

For the military, where officers are making even less than a SDE 1 at Microsoft, this is insane amounts of money. Equivalent to 3 years of salary for NCO or enlisted.

I hate the "why doesn't X just become a software engineer" attitude.

Honestly, it's probably no different than anyone else controlling for skill set. They're just people.

Not everyone has the experience or requisite knowledge to take a developer job.

>Not everyone has the experience or requisite knowledge to take a developer job...

Or to become a contractor.

No one's gonna pay you 160k and trust you to operate in Yemen just because you play militia on the weekends with some overweight guys from your state and you won a marksmanship match once out at your local shooting range.

Don't disagree. I just don't know why they chose to compare the two.

Right? “Hmm, hedge fund manager making $10 million a year, or developer making 250k? Tough call”

Gee, if only everybody had that choice.

that's making a lot of assumptions

Better dating prospects for the merc though.

In all seriousness is dating as a software engineer difficult? I would've thought that with the money and consistent free time it wouldn't be that bad.

It's not, or at least not directly because you're a software engineer. However, some areas where software engineers tend to congregate (I'm mostly talking about Silicon Valley) have some pretty skewed demographics, so if you're a straight male in San Francisco, it's going to be harder for you.

In Silicon Valley it's terrible, largely because of the skewed gender ratio, gender-segregated employment & hobbies, and culture of working all the time. Even if you get a date and have time to go on it there's a good chance you'll have nothing to talk with her about.

In most other cities (even just going an hour north to SF) it's fine. "Software engineer" used to have a nerd stigma a generation ago, but that hasn't been the case in a decade or more, and nerds can do fine with women.

A) First date is mostly about listening. B) If 100% of your hobbies and life interests are gender-specific things that you can't talk about on dates, you might wanna branch out a little. C) A and B also apply to women.

Well, I'm happily married and my wife is a Silicon Valley native, so ultimately I "succeeded" at the dating game.

It was pretty miserable while I was in it, though. Silicon Valley is not really a place where the culture encourages "branching out a little", nor does it attract people who are interested in that. This is self-reinforcing: people who were born here and aren't interested in tech tend to move up to SF/Berkeley/Oakland while they're single, which have greater cultural diversity.

I was in some sense lucky: I met my wife when she had recently moved back from Peru and was re-establishing her career here. Another year or so and she probably would've moved to Berkeley.

> B) If 100% of your hobbies and life interests are gender-specific things that you can't talk about on dates, you might wanna branch out a little.

That's condescending. Maybe I choose my interests for my enjoyment rather than other peoples'.

What I have learned about a first date is it is to try to get a second date. Try to be yourself but not to strange. If you are trying to act like someone else the woman sees right through it.

It depends on your personality, cultural background/preferences, and lifestyle as well as the more traditional factors like appearance, race, height, etc. Some kinds of people like to date "techies", but other kinds of people don't. But you personally may feel more compatible with someone in the second category, which can be frustrating. For many software engineers, dating can be very easy; for others, not so easy. (NB. Bay Area perspective.)

In this world there are hunters and farmers.

It is not.

Pretty much everyone can be a merc but to be SDE in Facebook you need quite a bit of privilege to be well-educated or insane amount of self-discipline, motivation and focus to educate yourself. Apples&Oranges.

i think become a seal/green beret is pretty challenging !

Correct. It's straight-forward to get into the regular special forces. Anyone with slightly better than average intelligence and physique can make it.

The elite special forces is a completely different ballgame. You need to be smarter and more fit than probably 90% of the population. Lots of these guys end up doing very well for themselves after leaving the military.

> regular special forces. Anyone with slightly better than average intelligence and physique can make it.

From personal experience I can say this is incorrect. The 'regular' special forces are the Green Berets (Top 5% of the Army). Elite special forces (CAG/Delta) 5% of the 5%

You have a ridiculously optimistic view of the US population if you think that 10% of us could become Navy SEALs.

You misunderstood my comment. Top 10% in both intelligence AND top 10% in potential physical fitness. Which has a ceiling of top 1% (0.10 * 0.10), but practically speaking, it's probably closer to top 0.1%.

if you go by YouTube comments, 10% already are.

comments like this are just silly.

Not even 1% of the military can get into SOF, and that's less than 1% of general US population.

The people who get through BUD/S are generally Olympic class athletes who are selected for very specific mental and physical traits that are almost non-existent in the general population. There's absolutely nothing straightforward about getting into any SOF organization.

"Spear Operations Group, according to three sources, arranged for the UAE to give military rank to the Americans involved in the mission, which might provide them legal cover."

"Aside from moral objections, for-profit targeted assassinations add new dilemmas to modern warfare. Private mercenaries operate outside the US military’s chain of command, so if they make mistakes or commit war crimes, there is no clear system for holding them accountable. If the mercenaries had killed a civilian in the street, who would have even investigated?"

In this case the questions have easy answers. Some country recognized the individuals as having a rank in their military, and they were on a mission sanctioned by that country. Thus it is the same as if any other soldier from that country had committed such actions (accident, target, otherwise).

However that does highlight other questions.

    What is a country?
    What is the distinction between warriors:
    * for a country in an official capacity?
    * Is an external entity fulfilling an official contract acting in such a capacity? (Historically, yes)
    * for a country in a resistance capacity?
    * for an entity not recognized as a country in any possible capacities?
    * fighting for their own sense of honor/justice?
In the easy cases it might be possible to judge the relative morally correct side by the actions of those involved. In an absolute sense if all were to suddenly act in ways perceived as good and respectful that would be good overall. In another the minimum required force to remove the unjust from the power to inflict that upon others would also be justice. Yet it is also important to ask why they have this power and are tolerated; solving those issues is surely the longer term justice.

The Law of War is the legal arena where these questions are grappled with: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_war

While this system is by no means perfect, remember that the goal of the rule of law is to provide another means of settling disputes other than violence, or limiting or tempering violence when it must be used.

> In the easy cases it might be possible to judge the relative morally correct side by the actions of those involved.

In fact this is extremely easy. Any person who murdered another person has done an immoral action, no matter how many layers of bureaucracy it's been dressed up in.

>Any person who murdered another person has done an immoral action, no matter how many layers of bureaucracy it's been dressed up in.

If I defend my family's lives by taking a life, does that mean it was immoral? Now extrapolate the argument to countries and state actors who are committed to killing innocents, and you can see just where all the gray area comes into play. The world isn't black and white.

> Any person who murdered another person has done an immoral action

this is tautological; murder is immoral by definition. killing is a superset of murder, and people disagree on what types of killing are immoral.

"Murder" the act of illegal killing. malum prohibitum, not malum in se. laws do not define morality.

you are right, and this is an important distinction.

Are you advocating for the military to not exist?


If the military didn't exist there would be no need for the military to exist, except possibly as a specialised civil emergency service.

This would free up more than $1.5tn annually.

If we got rid of nation states at the same time, we might actually start to get something interesting done as a species.

And if my grandmother had wheels she'd be a wagon.

'No military anywhere' seems to be a trivially unstable equilibrium. If nobody has any military and some group of people decide to create one and use force to dominate their neighbors, how exactly does anyone stop them?

Even if 99.99% of the world would prefer to not have any military and keep it that way, all it takes is a tiny minority of defectors from the norm.

> If we got rid of nation states at the same time

Right, so how do you resolve disagreements when people want different things? Should we have a world democracy, where China and India get about half the total vote? Would you be comfortable ceding some political control to people who may have sharply divergent values from you, including on this very topic?

> If nobody has any military and some group of people decide to create one and use force to dominate their neighbors, how exactly does anyone stop them?

Just because some people might do it doesn't mean you need to do it as well. If killing people is wrong, it's still wrong even when you're the one doing it.

> Would you be comfortable ceding some political control to people who may have sharply divergent values from you, including on this very topic?

This is literally how democracy already works.

> This is literally how democracy already works.

Wrong. We are able to elect our leaders through our democratic process specifically because we are able to protect ourselves from autocratic regimes coming in and taking over. "Get rid of the military" is an idealistic view that does not take into account the reality that countries will always have different views, ideas, and opinions, and will fight for what they believe in. Before the military, there were militias.

> > This is literally how democracy already works.

> Wrong.

What I meant by that is that most people have sharply divergent values from me. I'm used to ceding political control to people I fundamentally disagree with.

> I'm used to ceding political control to people I fundamentally disagree with.

Have any instances of "ceding political control" involved violations of your bodily autonomy or food security? If not, then the "sharply divergent values" are relatively minor compared to historical conflicts among peoples.

> If killing people is wrong, it's still wrong even when you're the one doing it.

Okay. But you still haven't solved the practical problem of people being able to violently coerce others.

Like, suppose there is an armed group Z of people who wants to control a patch of territory A and force those currently living there to perform agricultural labor and sexual favors for them. How do you prevent them from doing so?

How do you prevent the residents of territory A from saying "oh hey, how about we NOT" and forming a military to kill the approaching members of armed group Z?

This possibility is what smallnamespace meant by "trivially unstable equilibrium". It is unstable because when you do...whatever it is that you would do to set the world to this state... it wouldn't stay that way. This problem is known as the Security Dilemma.

> This is literally how democracy already works

No it isn't.

Suppose you have a country C with a legislature of 56 members. Suppose that legislature votes 35-21 to impose a tax on whiskey. So, there is a now through a democratic decision-making process, a law on the books that says that you have to pay a certain amount to the government when you sell whiskey. Now suppose that the residents of some smaller area P of the country say "no." and decide to pick guns and torture the local government official who is responsible for organizing and collecting the tax.

How does the will of the majority of the country (as expressed by the legislators' vote) actually result in the tax being paid?

(For those unfamiliar with the relevant American history, the answer was that the government sent in an army to enforce collection of the tax. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiskey_Rebellion)

Perhaps you are trolling, but if not...

In the absence of a nation-state framework I think things would rapidly devolve into some sort of feudal state framework perhaps with some interesting "armed-corporation" variations. Probably lots of violence and death until some new meta-stable configuration established itself. Civilization is fragile.

I think in the era of mass literacy, language, religion, and ideology would re-emerge as the boundaries between communities and armed groups.

I'd add race and culture as another possible boundaries.

Idealistic as that may be, we will always need a protection force.

According to this article: https://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/unworthy-victims-weste...

Western militaries have killed at least 4 million people in foreign countries in the last ~30 years. That's not my kind of "protection force".

The most sickening part is that we're paying for this, with our taxes. We're paying for people to go to foreign countries and kill people on our behalf. In the name of "protection".

With all due respect, just because casualties happen in war does not mean we shouldn't have a military.

You could make an argument for slimming it down, and that we've overextended our military capabilities past where they need to be, and into foreign soil where we shouldn't have been. I might even agree with aspects of that argument.

But to advocate for removal of the military leaves the US vulnerable to anyone who hasn't gotten rid of theirs (read: the rest of the world). We fought to get out from under British rule, so that we could establish a democracy and not live under a monarchy. If we abolish the military, there is literally nothing stopping someone from coming in and ending this experiment in democracy that has lasted as long as it has.

That's really a problem with the politicians, not the military.

While I agree in the theoretical sense, that does not reconcile with practical reality.

Much like Communism and Libertarianism being great in theory, but failing in reality.

Given all the talk of tech companies (like Buzzfeed) taking Saudi money, and the actual public assassination of a reporter by the Saudis in the last week, I find it really coincidental and convenient that an article is released right now talking about US assassinations in the Mid East.

The Saudis probably. A not so subtle demonstration of their ability to air our dirty laundry if we get too upset about them offing that journalist.

You know, it's possible for there to be two simultaneous wrongs. We can be outraged by both of them at the same time.

>We can be outraged by both of them at the same time...

They don't care if we, the people of the US, are outraged.

Their goal is to get the government of the US to back off.

And they are probably trying to do that by firing this shot across the bow of the government of the US. They likely have proof that ties the government of the US to many such actions across the MidEast region.

This story involves the UAE, who are Saudi allies, so don't think so.

I'd say they're reluctant allies. The article also mentions that the guy they were supposed to be assassinating found refuge in Saudi Arabia after the botched attempt, so clearly he was not the type of guy the Saudis wanted dead.

> The reason, a spokesperson for Al-Islah said in a phone interview, is that Mayo is alive — he had left the building 10 minutes before the attack and as of July was living in Saudi Arabia.

They want the US to stop playing fast and loose and illegally on their behalf?

Two sides of the same coin: these are ""private"" mercenaries fighting on behalf of the UAE in the multi-faceted war in Yemen. UAE are allied with Saudi there.

If you read the article, it's about UAE assassinations in the middle east, performed by a US company. This isn't a smokescreen intended to divert from or whatabout the Kashoggi story, or if it were it would be an inept one.

> and the actual public assassination of a reporter by the Saudis in the last week

Is this another journalist in the last week, or is this a reference to Jamal Kashoggi (who was apparently killed two weeks ago today, the same day he disappeared into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, right?)

Or maybe, now that everyone's enraged that a journalist was brutally killed, it is a good opportunity to ask the sticky question "OK, what do we do when an American does something similar?" Because now it's a bit inconvenient to claim the difficulty of realpolitik and how your sound sleep at night is sustained by hardworking ex-soldiers murdering people in Yemen's streets.

I doubt they just started investigating this story when the journalist was assassinated. For a story like this, the investigation probably began months or years ago, as a wild guess.

Claiming that journalism is being influenced by foreign money is one hell of a charge. Do you have anything, anything at all, to support that?

Perhaps I'm naïve, but I find it hard to believe that Buzfeed was sitting on a ~6500 word article, that probably took months to research, just in case the Saudi royal family got into a bit of a pickle.


Iranian propaganda would be keeping a big, bright, spotlight squarely on Khashoggi. They don't want anyone in the MidEast thinking about anything else right now.

That's part of the reason it's so critical for us to get out in front of this thing. The Saudis need to understand that they have gone too far this time. (We probably should have drawn the line when they kidnapped the prime minister of another nation. We should've never let them get away with that.)

>>> If the [American] mercenaries had killed a civilian in the street, who would have even investigated?

Like what?... is the U.S. government the ultimate arbiter of actions of Americans overseas? Like is there no "local" rule of law? Clearly the jurisdiction is the country where assassinations and collateral damage occur. The country may have inadequate resources to investigate and prosecute, or may not have the "moral standing" to do so adequately, but quit the American myopia already. What a stupid question.

Actually, the USA claims “extraterritorial jurisdiction” on some laws concerning citizens.

It's a crime for a US citizen to commit murder out of the country. The situations this comes up seem rare, but it happens. The mercenaries in this article got UAE military ranks explicitly to avoid this.

Another instance that sadly comes up more often is sexual offenses involving children. If you engage in child prostitution in a foreign country even where it's “legal”/illegal-but-not-enforced you can be prosecuted and jailed on your return to the US.

Collecting evidence for these extraterritorial offenses must be harder though. Would be interesting if these offenses can even be used for extradition.

Some links:



18 U.S.C. §956 - “Conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim, or injure persons or damage property in a foreign country” - https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/956

Also bribery.

Having spent several years deployed to the Middle East stories like this always seem to be somewhat difficult to navigate. I seriously considered going back overseas as a contractor (IT) after my deployments, but in the end it just wasn't a good fit for me.

In this case, it looks like the problem here is that the UAE wants to pay someone to kill "terrorists" for them, and the US is either ignoring, or somewhat supporting, the conflict in Yemen. There isn't an easy solution to that problem, but a good start IMO would be to get the US out of the ME political games, because no one is innocent in those.

Who define terrorists? you? if you ever seen what happen in Yemen is definitely UAE and Saudi are the terrorists.

I have no idea what the laws are around this. If the US military offers me, a civilian, $10,000 to murder some guy in Syria, and I do it, and it comes to light, should I expect to get sued? Prosecuted? Am I protected by any treaties?

Assuming you’re not actually in the military...if there was sufficient evidence I believe you could get prosecuted on your return to the US. The mercenaries in the article got UAE military ranks to avoid this.

18 U.S.C. §956 - “Conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim, or injure persons or damage property in a foreign country” - https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/956

Conversely, if you’re a foreign citizen but you murder a US citizen while abroad, that’s a crime in the US and you’d be jailed if they could ever get you here.

18 U.S.C. §1119 - “Foreign murder of United States nationals” - https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1119

He can also expect prosecution in the target country.

He'd get prosecuted in the US if the US military had hired him for something? That seems unlikely.

The US military has plenty of professionals for this kind of thing. The grey area here is other countries hiring US civilians, particularly when they're notionally inducted into the other country's armed forces (= no longer civilians) and the murder happens in a theater of war.

Why do we tolerate mercenaries at all? Obvious moral issues aside they also shrink our much cheaper pool of soldiers. Shouldn't any government strongly deter its citizens from doing mercenary work? As a civilian I don't want to encounter people like this on my daily life. If want them locked up like any other murderer.

How are mercenaries different than regular soldiers? One is directly employed by the government, one is contracted by the government. Other commenters here have shown the contractors are nearly entirely defensive anyways.

Economically: we pay soldiers comparatively little. Not sure if that's good or bad but it's certainly different for mercenaries.

Morally: it's different to kill because you volunteered to defend your country than because you need some money.

> Other commenters here have shown the contractors are nearly entirely defensive anyways.

Please prove this.

only tangentially related but I have always thought that Executive Outcomes is such an ominous and great name..

Snake wasn't lying when he said "War has changed". Mercenaries are as old as war itself but this type of operation seems like its on a completely different level.

Post WW2 it seems like most conflicts are being fought via guerrilla warfare. When you have a theatre of war that essentially a couple of rural provinces having some skilled American soldiers with a decade of experience of war seems highly valuable.

Wow, what a cluster-F of an operation, I often think these guys are overrated. Also, Green Berets don't have much in the way of experience or training on these specific kinds of things, in fact very, very few American forces will. I hope these guys are sanctioned back in the US.

Seals do a lot of direct action. Someone more qualified should explain how much direct action they do.

I think a lot.

Not only are there very, very few Seals, an even smaller fraction of them have ever actually done anything like this. Also Green Berets are way more towards 'Army' than anything like this.

The US forces do not run around knocking off people like this very often.

Now I don't have hyper specific insight, but I'll bet $1000 that not even Seals do 'explosive based drive-by assassinations' either. Because it's just not in the playbook.

Regular forces, Green Berets, Rangers etc. have nothing to do with this kind of stuff.

I have military experience, though not American, and I don't keep up with it.

Isn't this what SAD/SOG would be doing?

I really don't think Western powers are in the assassination business at all, at least not anymore. Unless they are 'wanted' type bad guys, like hardcore terrorists. There are so many ways for it to fallout. That explosion for example, what a bunch of idiots, they almost killed themselves ... and can you imagine if there were children? Most US journalists and pretty much all foreign journalists would want that scoop of a story, and they're smart. I mean - this video got out ...

The team began to develop what Gilmore called “esprit de corps.” They flew a makeshift flag featuring a skull and crossed swords — a kind of Jolly Roger on a black background — and painted that emblem onto their military vehicles and their living quarters.

Sounds like something a bunch of teenagers would do after reading Soldier of Fortune magazine, but these are grown, highly trained professional soldiers without any real oversight, or, it seems, moral compass.

If you have 30 minutes, read "The Crimes of SEAL Team 6" (1). It goes very much against the "good guys" media narrative that emerged after the OBL raid and Captain Phillips rescue. Many members have joined such elite units for noble reasons and served with honor, but there is also an undercurrent of savage brutality in some units that was not only tolerated, but even encouraged:

Some of those photographs, especially those taken of casualties from 2005 through 2008, show deceased enemy combatants with their skulls split open by a rifle or pistol round at the upper forehead, exposing their brain matter. The foreign fighters who suffered these V-shaped wounds were either killed in battle and later shot at close range or finished off with a security round while dying. Among members of SEAL Team 6, this practice of desecrating enemy casualties was called “canoeing.”

The canoeing photos are dramatic documentary evidence of the extreme and unnecessary violence that began to occur during multiple high-risk, exhausting, and traumatizing tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. “There is and was no military reason whatsoever to split someone’s skull open with a single round,” said a former SEAL Team 6 leader. “It’s sport.”

The former SEAL Team 6 leader said that he first noticed canoeing in 2004, and that it does occur accidentally on the battlefield, but rarely. He said canoeing became “big” in 2007. “I’d look through the post-op photos and see multiple canoes on one objective, several times a deployment,” the retired SEAL said. When SEAL Team 6 operators were occasionally confronted about the desecration, the SEAL leader said, they’d often joke that they were just “great shots.”

... During the first deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it was common practice to take fingers, scalp, or skin from slain enemy combatants for identification purposes. One former SEAL Team 6 leader told me that he feared the practice would lead to members of the unit using the DNA samples as an excuse to mutilate and desecrate the dead. By 2007, when Howard and Red Squadron showed up with their hatchets in Iraq, internal reports of operators using the weapons to hack dead and dying militants were provided to both the commanding officer of SEAL Team 6 at that time, Capt. Scott Moore, and his deputy, Capt. Tim Szymanski.

Howard, who declined to answer questions from The Intercept, rallied his SEALs and others before missions and deployments by telling them to “bloody the hatchet.” One SEAL I spoke with said that Howard’s words were meant to be inspirational, like those of a coach, and were not an order to use the hatchets to commit war crimes. Others were much more critical. Howard was often heard asking his operators whether they’d gotten “blood on your hatchet” when they returned from a deployment. Howard’s distribution of the hatchets worried several senior SEAL Team 6 members and some CIA paramilitary officers who worked with his squadron.


It's gruesome, but I don't agree that desecration of bodies is evil. War is war. If the person is already dead, they do not feel anything. If they were killing and trying to kill your people, it's understandable. So it is disrespectful and gruesome, yes, but what more? I don't think it's a major issue at all. I don't care that SEALs are cruel to the bodies of combatants.

Killing civilians is entirely different, and that's extremely serious. Torturing innocent people is entirely different (though the SEALs were not directly involved in this to my knowledge).

Not Navy SEALs, but Army Rangers:


Does the killing and attempted coverup described there rise to your category of "extremely serious?"

I don't know if this is a genuine question or attempting to catch me on hypocrisy. Yes, that's egregious, why wouldn't it be?

I was talking about the desecration of dead bodies of enemy combatants which people make a big deal about it.

I specifically mentioned that killing civilians (five were killed in the raid you mentioned) was entirely different.

Trying to destroy evidence that you murdered civilians by removing bullets from their bodies is not remotely the same as desecration of a body.

To be honest, I find this kind of article deeply hypocritical. People die in wars, brutally, horribly, and special forces are normally comprised of psychopaths. The fact remains that they cause less civilian casualties than any other kind of politics by other means. If you are going to fight wars, it would be far better to train more people to be the kind of psychopaths that like to disfigure corpses and carry around strings of ears, than to do 'impersonal' drone strikes, or worse still, sanctions - which sound very soft, but ultimately kill far more, and with a far more brutal selectivity, than war itself.

I found the article very interesting (and depressing) but agree with the direction of your sentiment. The article even starts with the Seals being upset about an airstike being called on the wedding party convoy as they thought it was going to cause a larger loss of life than a targeted operation (it did).

I'm sure some psychopaths manage to get into the special forces but I think the majority of these people are just trying to cope with the job they're doing. I read this as a lot of myth making on the part of the Seals to justify what could very easily be seen as straight up murder. By disassociating with reality and instead living a borrowed Native American persona, they're in a way protecting their mental health from the horrible acts they're committing and witnessing.

In the end though I think you're right. Hearing about the details of this stuff on a human level is horrifying but it's more humane to do targeted actions like this then wipe out whole city blocks with bombs or cut off food supplies.

> special forces are normally comprised of psychopaths

I think it's more that in order to kill a person, a non-psychopathic person has to dehumanise them. Once you've dehumanised someone you can do anything to them because they're not people to you.

>but there is also an undercurrent of brutality that was not only tolerated, but perhaps even encouraged

Insert "A Few Good Men" rant. It's a really hard problem, but it definitely needs a solution.

Excerpt from the end of the article:

> For his part, Gilmore said he “would have preferred that this stay off the radar.” But he decided to speak to BuzzFeed News because “once this comes out there’s no way that I’m going to stay out of it, so I’d prefer to own it. And I’m not going to try to hide from what I did.”

> “It’s still,” he said, “some variety of the future of warfare.”

> Gilmore is out of the mercenary business. He has since found himself in another gray-zone line of work, albeit one that’s far less dangerous. He said he’s with a California company that plans to make cannabis oil for vaporizers.

It sounds like the main source of this story is the owner of the private mercenary company. It seems like he thinks publicizing his teams actions will some how drum up business.

No. This is bullshit. I am telling you, from personal experience, that there are claims in this article that are completely bullshit, and stand out as being completely bullshit. Whoever this "journalist" is writing about has sold Buzzfeed quite a cool story, bro. I'm not doubting that assassinations are carried out by mercenaries, which is not even a little bit unusual historically. I only skimmed the last third of the article because it's such outlandishly bad and wholly unbelievable storytelling. And as someone that spent more than a couple of years looking at the universe through black hot thermal, something about that footage is not quite right. I could spend hours unraveling the tall tale Buzzfeed has spun here for you all today. Just a few of the claims that are outright false or smack heavily of exaggerated bullshit:

"... the US doesn’t ban mercenaries. And with some exceptions, it is perfectly legal to serve in foreign militaries, whether one is motivated by idealism or money. With no legal consequences ..." False. Totally false. You jeopardize your American citizenship by serving in a foreign military ranked as an NCO or above. It is the exception to do this without huge problems and not the norm. For example serving in the IDF as part of your Return. I know because I personally had an offer to join an allied European military in order to take a teaching position at their infantry school. And the US government is putting people in jail that went to fight in Syria and Iraq with e.g. PKK.

"If the [reserve special forces] soldiers are not on active duty, he added, they are not obligated to report what they’re doing." 100% false. You need a waiver signed by your chain of command (up through battalion commander) to do anything remotely like this, which would absolutely need to be approved, taking security contractor work like this, overseas. You absolutely are obligated not just to report to your chain of command but to get a waiver. I know because I personally have friends that did contracting work while in the guard, and I know the hoops they had to jump through.

"During a live-fire training mission he led, back in his Navy days, he says he accidentally shot another SEAL." You couldn't "choose to leave the Navy" after that. This would be a huge fucking problem. Probably a discharge. Possibly jail time.

"the number of special operations forces has more than doubled since 9/11, from 33,000 to 70,000. That’s a vast pool of crack soldiers selected, trained, and combat-tested by the most elite units of the US military" Seventy thousand maybe if you include all of the REMF POGs doing paperwork, but nobody could reasonably call these people "crack soldiers" and compare them to an 18B.

It looks like Buzzfeed as been Buzzfed. Somebody sold them a story that is almost certainly equal parts unbelievable exaggeration and complete and total bullshit. And even if the footage is real -- and I do not believe it is 100% genuine -- they're deliberately zooming in on the area where the "mercenary" is firing his weapon in order to obscure what appear to be rounds landing at his feet. It looks like he's provoked into firing. Do not believe anything these people are telling you. It is almost certainly invented for clicks or some other reason.

It's actually quite difficult to lose your US citizenship these days. Per U.S. Code § 1481, it's not sufficient to merely serve in a foreign military, you need to do it "with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality".

What's more, per (b) there's an explicit presumption of what amounts to innocent until proven guilty: the onus is on whoever is claiming you've lost your citizenship to prove that you voluntarily intended to lose it, which is really quite hard to do unless you renounced in front of a US consular officer.


Actually, swearing fealty to another nation's military by swearing in, in fact, counts as intending to relinquish your US nationality. I have had this discussion with people working in multiple different American consulates, because as I mentioned, I was offered a position teaching at a European infantry school which would have required me to join their military.

You're not a citizenship lawyer, I'm assuming, and you're just grabbing these links from (bad) cursory google searching, because this must be some kind of joke? Are you actually reading the links you are posting? I think you haven't actually read them. Both of these links support my assertions. Also, you obviously have zero experience with immigration and citizenship law, and how it works at the consular level. From your very own links:

"... provides for relinquishment through 'entering, or serving in, the armed forces of a foreign state' if either the person serves 'as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer' ... "

I suppose then you have no real-world experience with any of this (or anything like this) and so cannot otherwise provide anything to support your position. So let me help define some terms for you. A "commissioned or non-commissioned officer" -- what I called "an NCO or above" -- is essentially anyone higher ranking than a common soldier. If you serve in this position, the consular officer you report this to gets to make the call on whether or not this constitutes relinquishing citizenship and every consulate I talked to said it would mean relinquishing citizenship. This is the power of the consulate: They make decisions with recommendations from the government. Since you don't have any experience with this first-hand, and you don't understand the implication, that means you won't be afforded the opportunity to challenge or appeal the decision, since you won't have ready access to the American court system.

Not a lawyer (are you?), but I do maintain a keen interest in nationality law. Italics mine:

"...the Department of State adopted the administrative presumption found in 22 CFR 50.40 that a U.S. citizen/noncitizen national intends to retain U.S. nationality when he or she commits certain expatriating acts. That administrative presumption is in the process of being revised in 22 CFR Part 50, and includes when a U.S. citizen serves as a commissioned or noncommissioned officer of a foreign state, not engaged in hostilities against the United States (INA 349(a)(3), 8 U.S.C. 1481(a)(3))."

In other words, even if you serve as a officer or NCO of a foreign country, the Department of State will not consider this an expatriating act causing loss of citizenship, unless that country is at war with the US.

See also 7 FAM 1222 for more details of the "administrative presumption" in question:

"...in 1990 the Department adopted the administrative presumption found in 22 CFR 50.40 that a U.S. citizen/noncitizen national intends to retain U.S. nationality when he or she commits certain expatriating acts. That administrative presumption is in the process of being revised in 22 CFR Part 50, and includes when a U.S. citizen:

(3) Serves in the armed services of a foreign state as a commissioned or noncommissioned officer of a foreign state, not engaged in hostilities against the United States (INA 349(a)(3))"


You are absolutely correct in everything you posted here.

I found funny to see that link right in the middle of the article:


American private military companies like this one and Blackwater need to be abolished.

We've had mercenaries since the Pharaohs of Egypt. Its as likely to work as abolishing prostitution, politics, or drinking.

We've had extortion and murder as well, your argument doesn't really help.

Modern nation states can 100% regulate themselves on the use of irregular forces - there are situations for them, and many not.

They could be doing some enhanced security, some types of armed guards ... but not anything tactical, certainly not anything mission oriented or directed kinds of violence.

Mercenaries may always exist, but American ones don't have to. Participation in them should be made illegal, and all these private military companies should forbidden to operate until they find another line of business or liquidate themselves. If some former soldier or former general wants to become a mercenary, let him renounce his citizenship and go find a new home.

The only military forces in the US should be explicit parts of official US military.

Its a curious job - murder for hire? I don't think it actually is legal in the US.

Given that the US is not, in fact, at war with Yemen, it doesn't seem to be legal outside the US for US citizens or people within US jurisdiction when doing any planning, etc., related to it; see, U.S. Code tit. 18, ch. 45, particularly §§ 956, 958, and 960.


> American private military companies like this one and Blackwater need to be abolished.

It's Academi now (used to be Xe; hasn't been Blackwater for almost a decade.)

They can change their name as much as they like. No one's fooled.

They're making massive amounts of money in this 17-year war in Afghanistan. Imagine all the freedom they must be pumping out to earn those paychecks.

What's the difference between a private military company and a really heavily armed private security company?

If we can't clearly articulate this, we can't really ban these companies.

When guards have to accompany a VIP into an unstable environment they frequently employee armored vehicles, armed helicopters and specialists like designated marksmen.

> and a really heavily armed private security company

Most Western countries prohibit that form of organisation, too. Close protection is provided by State bodies ( the police and Royal Marines in the UK, for example ).

So the question arises, why does the USA permit armed private companies at all?

Close protection for executives is provided by state bodies in the UK?

What about when the executives travel?

No, they just need to be used for the right things.

'Enhanced security guards' are fine.

Not mercenaries. And there need to be clear regulations.

> 'Enhanced security guards' are fine.

I don't agree with that. Didn't these mercenary companies start out as just "enhanced security guards?" It seems like once you allow them to operate in any capacity, the rot spreads until you have assassination operations like the one in the article.

The only military career path for Americans should be within the ranks of the US military.

Maybe you are correct pragmatically, but I'm saying armed security guards are fine.

You realize that some urban areas of the US are more dangerous than Baghdad?

I have no problem with these guys as long as they are not doing military missions.

> I have no problem with these guys as long as they are not doing military missions.

As far as I'm concerned, security of American assets and personnel in a conflict zone is a military mission.

"security of American assets and personnel"

Post-war Iraq is not the same as a war zone, so protection of the civil service, bureaucrats, diplomatic corps, etc. I think can be done by some kind of other trained force.

In fact, it might be better in some ways - soldiers are trained to have a very aggressive posture, a very 'lean in' kind of assertion. The 'killer instinct'. And it involves a lot of training in heavy weapons, assaults, recons, urban warfare etc. etc.. We don't need that for these missions. Because in any serious engagement they should be calling in the actual Army.

> Post-war Iraq is not the same as a war zone, so protection of the civil service, bureaucrats, diplomatic corps, etc. I think can be done by some kind of other trained force.

I said conflict zone not war zone, which I meant to encompass lower-intensity dangerous areas. But in any case, aren't American embassies traditionally defended by US Marines? I see no reason to change that.

> In fact, it might be better in some ways - soldiers are trained to have a very aggressive posture, a very 'lean in' kind of assertion. The 'killer instinct'. And it involves a lot of training in heavy weapons, assaults, recons, urban warfare etc. etc.. We don't need that for these missions. Because in any serious engagement they should be calling in the actual Army.

These "contractors" are former soldiers with exactly that same "aggressive...killer instinct" training, so you're not avoiding it by hiring mercenaries for guard duty.

You can set your line wherever you deem best; the slipperyness of any slope is just how much effort you need to put into stopping the line from being moved by others.

(Me, I don’t even like armed cops).

A rose by any other name...

Of course, why would we outsource something that sensitive?

Seems to me like the only terrorists in this story are the American mercenaries and UAE government that hired them.

I'm not sure what is particularly surprising in this article. Surely if somebody is working as a warrior for hire, than people would hire them to do warrior stuff. Is the point here that the particular mercs are ex-US Army soldiers? In this case, I wonder if one has acquired a particular set of skills (yeah, I know, the movie reference) in the Army, and wants to monetize them in civilian market, what would be the better option? I mean, assassinations of course is not a good way of earning money, and certainly immoral in most cases, but as you can, regrettably, expect a certain number of trained software security professionals to become criminals, so you can expect from warfare specialists? Is there any way around it?

That is some laid back attitude to murder. Are you also cool with the "warriors" "monetizing" their skills in the US " civilian market" ?

> That is some laid back attitude to murder. No, I specifically pointed out it being immoral, and criminal. Though being engaged in war or warlike scenarios, one can expect that certain situations would require confrontation that ultimately can get people killed. This is what happens in war. This is why armies exist. And if it's legitimate for US Army, why isn't it legitimate for UAE Army? And if certain person can kill other people under the star-spangled banner, why the same person can't do it under other flags? Of course there are unjust wars, but I don't see how anything changes whether it's under US flag or UAE flag.

> Are you also cool with the "warriors" "monetizing" their skills in the US "civilian market" ?

Depends on how they monetize them. If it's a justified self-defense (e.g. somebody tries to assassinate a prominent political figure, her security detail reacts and kills the assassin) - sure, if it's aggression (somebody hires ex-military to assassinate a prominent political figure) - not so much.

> Is the point here that the particular mercs are ex-US Army soldiers?

of course not. it's pretty straightforward. the point is that these were assassinations. We're comfortable with mercs doing things like "defend a convoy", "defend a target", "eliminate all hostiles in an area", etc.

that's a FAR cry from "make this man die. we won't say why, but here's the address of his mosque, and if you want to blow up his whole workplace, that's fine."

> the point is that these were assassinations

So, there are contract killers. This is not exactly news, for sure? Political murders exist pretty much since the time politics exists. Of course it's bad, but not sure what is new here.

So what's YOUR point? There has always been evil, so why bother reporting on it?

Yes, there are contract killers. Are you saying you seriously don't know what's surprising about american citizens being freelance contract killers on behalf of a foreign government, and arguing that it's a good thing to do? And our own government being unsure whether there's anything illegal about it?

> and arguing that it's a good thing to do

Seriously, how many times I need to write it's a bad thing to do so that somebody won't comment "so, you're saying it's a good thing to do, right?" It's like there's some weird font some people have installed which turns meaning of every word to its opposite.

The sentiment of your comments is just irrelevant. The news doesn't have to be surprising and no one cares that you personally aren't surprised. This is reporting that identifies a particular set of actors engaging in this immoral behavior, and therefore it is important news.

how is this news?

I know that the novelty of Buzzfeed delivering hard-hitting journalism has been known for the last three or so years already, but this is one hell of a heavy subject for them to be reporting on.

This is not the Buzzfeed of old. This story is something you'd expect from the NY Times or the Washington Post.

I believe the difference is this is BuzzFeed News, not BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed News, from what I understand, is fairly solid. BuzzFeed itself keeps the lights on, because hard hitting news doesn't.

What the hell?! Isn't this what we pay the CIA for? I mean seriously, what are my black-ops tax dollars funding these days?

> What the hell?! Isn't this what we pay the CIA for?

No, we don't pay the CIA to fight UAEs wars. I mean, sometimes that happens, but it's not their central function.

> I mean seriously, what are my black-ops tax dollars funding these days?

Presumably, unless you are a UAE taxpayer, not this, except perhaps very indirectly.

Intelligence agents try to use proxies whenever possible - local assets are deniable, blend better, know less, and are more expendible.

> what are my black-ops tax dollars funding these days?

Domestic propaganda

Well done, cwkoss. Well done. That is all.

And the CIA pays the mercs or the people that pay the mercs.

I wonder what would have Senator John McCain thought about this program? Miss him.

does his track record indicate he was particularly anti this?

it does, yes. he was very against the privatization of the military and intelligence services

He was against the privatization of certain US military and intelligence functions, but I'm not aware of him being against foreign states hiring US military or intelligence contractors for similar functions.

Privatization of military functions was a key reason for the downfall of the Roman Republic. Troops became loyal to generals, not to the Republic herself, as the general became the paymaster/generator of funds. The echos are getting louder.

> The echos are getting louder

These mercenaries are closer to Crassus hiring legions to fight a foreign war moreso than Caesar or Sulla marching on Rome. American firepower is predominantly state owned and loyal to its civilian leadership. These mercenaries are a liability because they make America look bad, not because they pose even an intermediate threat to American military power.


A good look into this further is Mike Duncan's The Storm before the Storm that leads into the Sulla era: https://www.amazon.com/Storm-Before-Beginning-Roman-Republic...

Duncan's The History of Rome podcast is very good overall and very much worth a listen.

Thank you! I have always had a strange fascination with Sulla–as a man, a politician and a general. Appreciate the book and podcast references.

It's not clear to me why Roman Empire would be relevant in this case. Society, economy, politics, military, culture, technology, wars, the life of soldiers... a lot of things were different back then.

Roman Republic, not the Empire.

There are always lessons in history, even accounting for the differences between an agrarian and digital society. Private militaries have proven to be rather fickle when it comes to rights v. might.

> Roman Republic, not the Empire.

The fall of the former and rise of the latter seems to be the issue being raised, so either equally applies.

Privatization of US military function isn't what this article is about. (it's mentioned, but it's not the main narrative)

McCain was one of the most if not the most hawkish Senator in the US, particularly towards Iran and Hezbollah, if you wonder what he thought about this program, we are talking about the guy who came up with "Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran" parody song.

>McCain was considered a great friend of Saudi Arabia. >He endorsed arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition waging war on Yemen.

Only when Trump became President did he regain his moral compass...

>In June 2017, McCain campaigned to kill Congress’s “Stop Arming Terrorists Act”, aimed at banning Trump’s $510 million sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Just kidding.


I'm guessing this is in the news because of the Khashoggi murder. An important point here is that this was orchestrated by the UAE government, and the Americans involved were private individuals who were not operating with any kind of sanction or approval from the US government.

> not operating with any kind of sanction or approval from the US government.

Not officially, no, but if US intelligence isn't keeping track of them they're not doing their job properly, and I doubt they would be allowed to attack US-allied targets.

Can't say how good or bad those mercenaries were but I can definitely say that the info coming from the UAE intelligence services was dog-s.it. For instance, they were not even able to correctly spell the name of the Toyota Hilux, they mis-spelled it as "Haloux" (?!?). (https://img.buzzfeed.com/buzzfeed-static/static/2018-10/15/1...)

I'm pretty sure that an intelligence-gathering organization that cannot spell/remember the name of one of the most used Toyota models in the Middle East is not good at providing correct geo-coordinates or the target's meeting times.

It’s a transliteration from Arabic.

Apparently they also transliterated the meeting hour of their target’s wrong.

>providing correct geo-coordinates or the target's meeting times...

Something tells me the intelligence people in the UAE were only relaying that information, not providing it.

Anyone who thinks no other intelligence agencies were involved in this is being willfully naive.

I agree with that, but apparently they're not even able to correctly copy a 5-letter word, I'd say that relaying sensitive info (like the location of an assassination target) is a little more prone to making errors. Plus, the article mentions that at the beginning the mercenaries were given totally inadequate weapons, I find that's kind of related to the organizational mess.

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