clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Some laws won't work in war zone

As a former private security guard in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dale McIntosh has seen nearly every ploy insurgents use to kill Americans:

• Staged car accidents to slow or stop cars and motorcades.

• Rocks placed on roads for the same purpose.

• Car bombs parked beside the road.

• Booby-trapped dog and cow carcasses in the middle of the road.

• Suicide bombers.

"It's very dangerous over there," says McIntosh.

Now attending school in Arizona, McIntosh has followed the Blackwater controversy with more than casual interest. In the wake of several incidents in which innocent people were allegedly killed by Blackwater security personnel, there is a cry to put all private security firms under law and subject to prosecution.

It's not as simple as it sounds. Can security forces — and soldiers, for that matter — work under the confines of a law that will make politicians back home more comfortable?

"No way," says McIntosh. "If you had a questionable shoot and there's a chance you're going to end up in an Iraqi prison or have the country turn on you, you'll second-guess yourself, and that could get you killed.

"If someone is coming at you full speed, do you want to risk that they're really not a threat? If you order them to stop and they don't, what are you supposed to do? We had a sign on the back of our car warning other vehicles to stay 100 meters behind us. Anyone who didn't obey it, we had to stop them. We had that problem all of the time."

American soldiers make similar complaints that increasingly restrictive rules of engagement place them in greater danger — having to knock on doors before entering the houses of suspected terrorists, for instance.

If those on the front line are to be believed, Americans' distaste for war and its realities — and the resulting legal constraints — could get Americans killed. There seems to be a trend toward making war the same as, say, police work in the United States or an episode of "L.A. Law." Meanwhile, insurgents employ citizen suicide bombers.

McIntosh is a former Marine who was living in Utah when he was profiled in the Deseret Morning News last year. He spent 18 months in Iraq and Afghanistan serving as a bodyguard. He's one of many former U.S. soldiers who have signed up to work for security companies contracted by the State Department to protect U.S. officials and citizens.

For former soldiers, it's a chance to earn as much as $25,000 to $40,000 per month using the skills they learned and used for little pay in the military. All they have to do is survive exploding cars, road mines, rocket-propelled grenades, snipers, mortars, suicide bombers and military-grade assault rifles. More than 300 contractors have been killed.

"People call us mercenaries, but if someone paid you $500,000 to be a reporter in Iraq, you'd do it," says McIntosh. "And we have this patriotic feeling for the military. We're still fighting for our country. These are the same people who were in our military. Now they're trying to make money."

The top three security firms are Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp. McIntosh worked for the latter two. When he was profiled last year, he discussed the gray area in which private contractors operate. They are not under military, U.S. or Iraqi law and have immunity from prosecution.

"When we worked in Afghanistan, we had a diplomatic passport, and it can get you out of anything," he says. "You use it so many times."

That said, he adds, "There wasn't a time that we shot at anyone that we weren't first shot at. We would use warning shots into the road in front of them or into the engine block. Our first duty is to flee when we are shot at, because we're trying to protect people. We don't want a firefight. Our job is to avoid them."

Most private security guards are former elite soldiers — Green Berets, Rangers, SEALs — and are highly professional. But a year ago McIntosh himself expressed his concern over their declining professionalism. Surviving tryouts and training to be signed up for a security firm was once like making an NFL roster — only the elite made the cut. But with the increased demand for private contractors, the standards slipped dramatically. McIntosh joked that anyone who could pass Level 6 in the "Delta Force" video game was signed up.

"Those are the people who get into trouble and make a bad name for everyone," McIntosh said at the time.


E-mail: drob@desnews.com