The number of casualties that result from working as security and private contractors in war zones often do not get the attention that they deserve. We often don’t hear anything in the news about their death and serious injury, which is unfortunate as they make are making sacrifices for the safety of our country and our world, and deserve our recognition and respect. Injuries and deaths of civilian contractors are common in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Prof. Steven L. Schooner and student Collin D. Swan of the George Washington University Law School, drafted a paper titled, “Dead Contractors: The Un-Examined Effect of Surrogates on the Public’s Casualty Sensitivity,” which will be published in the Journal of National Security Law & Policy. In the paper, they provide an analysis of the “casualty sensitivity” effect. Today, the military consists of a mixed workforce that includes conventional soldiers and U.S. citizens who are private contractors, which means the deaths and injuries in combat zones are to both soldiers and private contractors. Often, the public is not made aware of the loss of American contractors abroad, because these brave contractors do not get the same media attention.
Risks to Private Contractors
Private Contractors face many risks on the war zone. Recently, The Congressional Research Service reported that “private security contractors are four times more likely to be killed in Afghanistan than uniformed personnel.” The report also noted that “collectively, contractor deaths account for over 25 percent of total losses since the U.S. entered Iraq and Afghanistan.” Although the U.S. military has made a significant withdrawal from Iraq, private contractors remain and will likely see an increase in casualties. Additionally, many military tasks will be outsourced to private contractors over the next several years to allow the government to withdraw more of its troops. For instance, James F. Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, testified in early 2011 that “he expects his staff to more than double in size within the coming year, from 8,000 to 17,000 people; most of that personnel growth will be contractors,” which is a result of the State Department preparing to take over the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq.
According to the data cited in the paper, Dead Contractors: The Un-Examined Effect of Surrogates on the Public’s Casualty Sensitivity, “more than 2,300 contractors have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and the first quarter of 2011.” In Iraq, the report cites “more than 1,537 contractors have died since 2003. In Afghanistan, the 763 dead contractors represent approximately one third of U.S. deaths in that country.”
Statistics cited in the authors report include:
“[Defense Base Act] DBA fatality claims by contractors in 2003 represented only four percent of all fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan. From 2004 to 2007, that number rose to twenty-seven percent. From 2008 to the end of 2010, Defense Base Act fatality claims accounted for forty percent of the combined annual death toll. In 2010, contractor fatality claims represented forty-seven percent of all fatalities. In the first quarter of 2011, contractors represented forty-five percent of all fatalities.”
All Lives must be Counted
Because the private contractor deaths are not included in the media coverage of military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, it gives the public the misconception that deaths are decreasing and violence is decreasing. Thus, the public is not getting the true costs of the wars. The authors of the paper provide a number of important conclusions in their report:
“Unfortunately, the number of military casualties no longer tells the whole story of human sacrifice associated with military actions… An honest, accurate tally of the human toll of military conflicts plays a critical role in a representative democracy. Yet the public, the media, and American policy-makers currently lack relevant, accurate data. The pervasive deployment of contractors on the modern battlefield requires the injection of contractor deaths into the casualty sensitivity equation…In weighing that balance, all lives must be counted.”
- David Isenberg, The Uncounted Contractor Casualties
- Dead Contractors: The Un-Examined Effect of Surrogates on the Public’s Casualty Sensitivity (by Steven L. Schooner and Collin D. Swan, George Washington University Law School)