Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2009


In Copyright


Numerous scandals arising from the United States government’s increased use of armed private military contractors have drawn attention to the contractors’ legally ill-defined position. But the complexity of the contractors’ relation to various bodies of law and doctrine — including military law, international law, state tort law, employment law, and sovereign immunity — is not the only salient issue. The contractors are also awkwardly positioned in relation to the traditional understanding of sacrifice, which has structured Americans’ imaginings about those who kill and are killed on behalf of the nation. This Article examines the contractors’ relation to the tradition of sacrifice and finds that they are officially excluded from it — their deaths are not included in body counts, for instance, and they are not given medals and honors. The Article then focuses on one case in which this policy of exclusion ran into difficulties: the spectacular and grotesque killing, dismembering and immolation of four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah, Iraq. In this event, individuals who had contracted their services came to be seen as having sacrificed for the U.S. In conclusion, the Article urges that while it is important to address the lack of legal clarity surrounding contractors, it is also necessary to address their position in the tradition of sacrifice and attend to the deeper issues of popular and governmental sovereignty which that tradition articulates.

Publication Title

Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities

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