THE BLOG

It's Déjà Vu for DynCorp All Over Again

12/06/2010 08:47 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • David Isenberg Author, 'Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq'

For an example of how just one transgression can lead to endless bad publicity consider the movie titled The Whistleblower that was released earlier this year. To summarize the plot, in Bosnia in 1999, Kathryn Bolkovac, a U.S. policewoman served as a U.N. peacekeeper. Her post was with the International Police Task Force which was arranged by DynCorp Aerospace. She was assigned to run the IPTF office that investigates sex trafficking, domestic abuse and sexual assault. She ultimately alleges that peacekeepers, U.N. workers and international police are visiting brothels and facilitating sex trafficking by forging documents and aiding the illegal transport of woman into Bosnia. DynCorp responds by firing Bolkovac, who returns to the U.S. and files a wrongful termination case. She wins the suit but says she's still blacklisted.

Put bluntly, DynCorp was involved in a sex slavery scandal in Bosnia in 1999, with its employees accused of rape and the buying and selling of girls as young as 12. Dyncorp, hired to perform police duties for the UN and aircraft maintenance for the US Army, were implicated in prostituting the children, whereas the company's Bosnia site supervisor filmed himself raping two women. A number of employees were transferred out of the country, but with no legal consequences for them.

This was one of two cases involving DynCorp and sexual scandal in Bosnia. The other, involved air plane mechanic Ben Johnston who sued DynCorp, alleging he was sacked because he had uncovered evidence that Dyncorp employees were involved in 'sexual slavery.

The negative impact of just those two cases cannot be overstated. Indeed, search online for "dyncorp AND sex scandal" as I just did and you get nearly nine thousand hits. DynCorp spent many years trying to move past the bad publicity resulting from these cases. And indeed, one can look forward to more on the subject when Ms. Bolkovac's book on the incident is released this coming January.

One could also note that, in a much less noticed case, in October 2004 it was revealed that DynCorp contract workers operating at Tolemaida Air Base in Colombia distributed a video in which they could be observed sexually violating underage girls from the town of Melgar. This video was even sold on the main streets of Bogotá. Nonetheless, the Lawyers' Collective of Colombia has not learned of any criminal investigation undertaken in relation to these acts involving minors. According to follow-up work carried out by the Lawyers' Collective it was discovered that one of the minors involved in the videos committed suicide some time after the publication of them.

Now, courtesy of Wikileaks, DynCorp can look forward to a new round of ridicule and denunciations.

As first reported by the British Guardian newspaper, on June 24, 2009 the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan sent a cable to Washington, under the signature of Karl Eikenberry, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, regarding a meeting between Assistant Chief of Mission Joseph Mussomeli and Afghan Minister of Interior Hanif Atmar. Among the issues discussed was what diplomats delicately called the "Kunduz DynCorp Problem." Kunduz is a northern province of Afghanistan

The problem was this:

1. In a May 2009 meeting interior minister Hanif Atmar expresses deep
concerns that if lives could be in danger if news leaked that foreign police trainers working for US commercial contractor DynCorp hired "dancing boys" to perform for them.

As the ever zealous Ms. Sparky has already noted:

The tradition of Bacha Bazi "boy play" is alive and well in Afghanistan. Young boys are bought and sold, dressed up like women and forced to dance, at men only parties. Many times they are then raped or killed.

...
According to Wikipedia:
Bacha Bazi (translated from Persian: literally "playing with children"), also known as bacchá ' (from the Persian bacheh "child, young man, calf") is a practice recognized as sexual slavery and child prostitution in which prepubescent children and adolescents are sold to wealthy or powerful men for entertainment and sexual activities. This business thrives in southern Afghanistan, where many men keep them as status symbols. Some of the individuals involved report being forced into sex. The authorities are barely attempting to crack down on the practice as "un-Islamic and immoral acts" but many doubt it would be effective since many of the men are powerful and well-armed former commanders.

For more on dancing boys see this PBS Frontline documentary "The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan," broadcast last year.

Here are the relevant parts of the cable:

1. (C) SUMMARY: Assistant Ambassador Mussomeli discussed a range of issues with Minister of Interior (MoI) Hanif Atmar on June 23. On the Kunduz Regional Training Center (RTC) DynCorp event of April 11 (reftel), Atmar reiterated his insistence that the U.S. try to quash any news article on the incident or circulation of a video connected with it. He continued to predict that publicity would "endanger lives." He disclosed that he has arrested two Afghan police and nine other Afghans as part of an MoI investigation into Afghans who facilitated this crime of "purchasing a service from a child." He pressed for CSTC-A [Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan] to be given full control over the police training program, including contractors. Mussomeli counseled that an overreaction by the Afghan goverment (GIRoA) would only increase chances for the greater publicity the MoI is trying to forestall.

KUNDUZ RTC DYNCORP UPDATE

4. (C) On June 23, Assistant Ambassador Mussomeli met with MOI Minister Hanif Atmar on a number of issues, beginning with the April 11 Kunduz RTC DynCorp investigation. Amb Mussomeli opened that the incident deeply upset us and we took strong steps in response.
An investigation is on-going, disciplinary actions were taken against DynCorp leaders in Afghanistan, we are also aware of proposals for new procedures, such as stationing a military officer at RTCs, that have been introduced for consideration. (Note: Placing military officers to oversee contractor operations at RTCs is not legally possible under the currentDynCorp contract.) Beyond remedial actions taken, we still hope the matter will not be blown out of proportion, an outcome which would not be good for either the U.S. or Afghanistan. A widely-anticipated newspaper article on the Kunduz scandal has not appeared but, if there is too much noise that may prompt the journalist to publish.

5. (C) Atmar said he insisted the journalist be told that publication would endanger lives. His request was that the U.S. quash the article and release of the video. Amb Mussomeli responded that going to the journalist would give her the sense that there is a more terrible story to report. Atmar then disclosed the arrest of two Afghan National Police (ANP) and nine other Afghans (including RTC language assistants) as part of an MoI investigation into Afghan "facilitators" of the event. The crime he was pursuing was "purchasing a service from a child," which in Afghanistan is illegal under both Sharia law and the civil code, and against the ANP Code of Conduct for police officers who might be involved. He said he would use the civil code and that, in this case, the institution of the ANP will be protected, but he worried about the image of foreign mentors. Atmar said that President Karzai had told him that his (Atmar's) "prestige" was in play in management of the Kunduz DynCorp matter and another recent event in which Blackwater contractors mistakenly killed several Afghan citizens. The President had asked him "Where is the justice?"

6. (C) Atmar said there was a larger issue to consider. He understood that within DynCorp there were many "wonderful" people working hard, and he was keen to see proper action taken to protect them; but, these contractor companies do not have many friends. He was aware that many questions about them go to SRAP Holbrooke and, in Afghanistan, there is increasing public skepticism about contractors. On the other hand, the conduct of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) is disciplined. Looking at these facts, he said, he wanted CSTC-A in charge. He wanted the ANP to become a model security institution just like the Afghan National Army (ANA) and National Directorate for Security (NDS), and the contractors were not producing what was desired. He suggested that the U.S. establish and independent commission to review the mentor situation, an idea he said Ambassador Eikenberry had first raised. Atmar added that he also wanted tighter control over Afghan employees. He was convinced that the Kunduz incident, and other events where mentors had obtained drugs, could not have happened without Afghan participation.

EIKENBERRY

Putting aside the fact that the primary concern of the U.S. official was that publicity about possible criminal behavior might lead to an "overreaction by the Afghan government" there are other points to consider.

Evidently the episode sparked Afghan demands that contractors and private security companies be brought under much tighter government control. But the US embassy was legally incapable of honoring Atmar's request that the US military should assume authority over training centers managed by DynCorp.

It is possible that the involvement of foreigners could have turned into a major public scandal. Atmar warned about public anger towards contractors, who he said "do not have many friends" and said they needed far greater oversight.

He insisted that a journalist looking into the incident should be told that the story would endanger lives, and that the US should try to quash the story. But US diplomats cautioned against an "overreaction" and said that approaching the journalist involved would only make the story worse.

The strategy appeared to work when an article was published in July by the Washington Post about the incident, which made little of the affair, saying it was an incident of "questionable management oversight" in which foreign DynCorp workers "hired a teenage boy to perform a tribal dance at a company farewell party."

Given this incident it is easier to understand why earlier this year Karzai issued a decree calling for the dissolution of all private security companies by the end of the year, an edict that has since been slightly watered down.

While nobody has accused the DynCorp contractors of any improper conduct with the "dancing boys" themselves one has to wonder where their common sense was. Anyone with half a brain should be able to realize that buying drugs and hired dancing boys for the entertainment of Afghan police you are helping to train is not something you want to do. One should be able to figure that out without having to contact headquarters for guidance. Generally, that is what people call a no-brainer.

This also makes you wonder how serious DynCorp is about its ethics. For example one might think the section in its Code of Ethics and Business Conduct about protecting the company's image might clue an employee in to the reality that hiring dancing boys is not a good idea. But no, it turns out that it just means "We must ensure that all public statements, including flings with Government agencies, are accurate, complete and clear, and communicated only by authorized Company spokespersons." Perhaps they thought that as long as the U.S. government did not object they had no problem. It does, however, make you wonder if there is a line items for "dancing boys" in one of the invoices DynCorp submitted to the government.

Actually, there is nothing in the DynCorp code of ethics that is remotely applicable to this situation. Evidently, avoiding behavior that might aid, even if only indirectly, illegal conduct by foreign nationals is not its concern. To be fair, I doubt any other PMC is any different.

But wait, what about that recently signed International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers that was signed in Geneva last month to much fanfare. For a day you could barely hear anything over the din produced by private military and security contractor officials patting themselves on the back and congratulating themselves over this supposed achievement.

And, yes, it does have some relevance. Paragraph 38 clearly states:

Signatory Companies will not benefit from, nor allow their Personnel to engage in or benefit from, sexual exploitation (including, for these purposes, prostitution) and abuse or gender-based violence or crimes, either within the Company or externally, including rape, sexual harassment, or any other form of sexual abuse or violence. Signatory Companies will, and will require their Personnel to, remain vigilant for all instances of sexual or gender-based violence and, where discovered, report such instances to competent authorities.

DynCorp is one of the signatories to this. Of course this incident happened before the ICOC was signed, so it is irrelevant in this case.

Finally, there is the recently renamed PMC trade group, International Stability Operations Association, which has long had DynCorp as a member. ISOA's Code of Conduct clearly states "Signatories shall respect the dignity of all human beings and strictly adhere to all applicable international humanitarian and human rights laws."

ISOA's code also says, "Signatories will be guided by all pertinent rules of international humanitarian and human rights laws including as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

Funny they should mention that as the Declaration has some provisions relevant to dancing boys:

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It will be interesting to see if ISOA will at least bother to check with DynCorp to get the details of what happened. But if it doesn't ISOA does have a grievance procedure where anyone can make a complaint about one of its member companies.