All excerpts below taken from articles by Jeremy Scahill.
Photo by Chris Curry/The Virginian Pilot
The Dogs of War, Masters of War, Soldiers of Fortune, Hired Guns, "Military Contractors"...
Mercenaries, by any other name.
"We must promote a more entrepreneurial approach: one that encourages people to be proactive, not reactive, and to behave less like bureaucrats and more like venture capitalists."
-- Donald Rumsfeld, Transforming the Military 2002
"Nothing could be more destructive of the all-volunteer, Total Force concept underlying U.S. military manpower doctrine than to expose the private components to the tort liability systems of fifty states, transported overseas to foreign battlefields."
-- Blackwater USA legal papers (in response to a wrongful death suit filed against them by the families of the contractors killed in Fallujah)
"We have over 200,000 troops in Iraq and half of them aren't being counted, and the danger is that there's zero accountability."
-- Congressman Dennis Kucinich
"This is a rent-an-army out there. Wouldn't it be better for this country if those tasks, particularly the quasi-military gunfighting tasks, were being performed by active-duty military soldiers in terms of cost and accountability?"
-- Senator Jim Webb
"It has been virtually impossible to shine the light on this aspect of the war and so when we discuss the war, its scope, its costs, its risks, they have not been part of this whatsoever. This whole shadow force that's been operating in Iraq, we know almost nothing about. I think it keeps at arm's length from the American people what this war is all about."
-- Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky
"Contractors are operating with unclear lines of authority, out-of-control costs and virtually no oversight by Congress. This black hole of accountability increases the danger to our troops and American civilians serving as contractors. (My legislation) would re-establish control over these companies, while bringing contractors under the rule of law."
-- Senator Barack Obama
"Private contractors like Blackwater work outside the scope of the military's chain of command and can literally do whatever they please without any liability or accountability from the US government... Blackwater seems to understand money. That's the only thing they understand. They have no values, they have no morals. They're whores. They're the whores of war."
-- Katy Helvenston (whose son Scott was one of the Blackwater contractors killed in Fallujah)
Blackwater Contractors with a US Marine on a rooftop in Najaf
Way back when I was in the 9th grade, I took a course on World History. It was one of the most fascinating and enjoyable classes I ever had. We studied the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. I recall that we spent a good amount of time discussing the reasons for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Our teacher listed reasons such as the softening decadence and comfortable debauchery of Roman society, the loss of civic virtues, and the reliance on mercenary forces to protect the frontiers. I remember that he laid special emphasis on the mercenaries in particular, pointing out that no society ever survived once it had come to depend upon mercenaries for the protection of it's interests.
A few months ago, I was watching a Baathist/Sunni agitprop video on Youtube about the "truth" concerning the war in Iraq. One of the propaganda claims made by the narrator was that the number of coalition casualties was much higher than what was being reported. There was a claim to the effect that thousands of Latin American mercenaries, lured to Iraq by the promise of gaining US citizenship, were being killed and buried in unmarked graves, tossed in canals, eaten by dogs, etc, etc... and that these casualties were not being reported in the Western media. Outlandish claims, to be sure, but with just enough of a kernel of truth to make us aware that there are indeed things going on with privateers in Iraq that are not being widely reported.
There are about 100,000 private contractors in Iraq, fairly close to the number of American troops. Many of them are in support roles, like the poor sons-of-guns who run gauntlets driving trucks for Halliburton subsidiary KBR, because they can earn at least twice as much money as they could driving a forklift at a Wal-Mart somewhere in the USA, but some of them are in security and combat roles as well, working for Blackwater USA. Almost 800 contractors of various kinds and from various countries have been killed in Iraq.
A Partial List of Contractor Casualties in Iraq
In March of 2004, the First Marine Expeditionary Force took over the area that includes Fallujah from the Army's 82d Airborne Division. The 82nd Airborne operated mostly from a base outside of the city of Fallujah itself. The Marines went in with the idea of having more of an active presence in the city, with more "soft-patrolling" and an eye towards reaching hearts and minds by building relationships and gaining the trust of the residents. Four days after the Marines took the responsibility for Fallujah, the incident occurred which just about every analyst agrees was responsible for turning the war irreversibly, irretrievably, and poisonously viral. It was not an incident involving US troops. It was an incident involving Blackwater contractors.
It is one of the most infamous incidents of the war in Iraq: On March 31, 2004, four private American security contractors get lost and end up driving through the center of Fallujah, a hotbed of Sunni resistance to the US occupation. Shortly after entering the city, they get stuck in traffic, and their small convoy is ambushed. Several armed men approach the two vehicles and open fire from behind, repeatedly shooting the men at point-blank range. Within moments, their bodies are dragged from the vehicles and a crowd descends on them, tearing them to pieces. Eventually, their corpses are chopped and burned. The remains of two of the men are strung up on a bridge over the Euphrates River and left to dangle. The gruesome image is soon beamed across the globe.
Immediately after the incident, the pressure built to have the Marines lay siege to Fallujah, the first of two major assaults that would take place on the city. The Marines' strategy at winning hearts and minds was shelved before it even had a chance to begin.
Mercenary activity is nothing new. Most notable in recent decades was the rise and fall of the now defunct South African company Executive Outcomes, which saw most of its combat in coup and counter-coup contracts in Africa. In 1999, it was dissolved when South Africa introduced the 1998 Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act. The aims of the Act:
To stop mercenary activities by:
a. preventing direct participation as a combatant in armed conflict for private gain including the training, recruitment and use of mercenaries; and,
b. requiring approval of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee for offering of military assistance overseas.
South Africa cleaned up its act in this regard. In the case of the USA and Blackwater, we have turned towards the use of mercenaries, and up until recently (and only with the election of a Democratic Congress), we have had very little means of monitoring or controlling what they do. Unlike soldiers, they had not been subject to following the Geneva Convention, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, US laws, or the laws of the countries in which they operate. If they shoot innocents, drive recklesly through the streets of Iraq, or do anything else to alienate the population, there has been no way to hold them to account.
A wrongful death suit has filed by the families of the four men who were killed in Fallujah (Stephen "Scott" Helvenston, Mike Teague, Jerko Zovko and Wesley Batalona). The suit claims that they were unneccessarily and negligently placed in danger by Blackwater when they were sent to Fallujah under conditions in violation of Blackwater's own security contracts and guarantees (they were traveling in SUVs rather than armored vehicles, in a 4-man team rather than the 6 required, including rear-gunners with SAW heavy automatic weapons, and the 4 had been assigned together without having trained together). The four men were on a mission to Fallujah to... pick up kitchen equipment...
It has been a tangled web to figure out just who their mission was in benefit of (ultimately it was determined to be KBR), but looking at this, one can see the labyrinthine relationships in which these no-bid contracts are soaking the US taxpayers...
According to former Blackwater officials, Blackwater, Regency and ESS were engaged in a classic war-profiteering scheme. Blackwater was paying its men $600 a day but billing Regency $815, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. "In addition," the paper reports, "Blackwater billed Regency separately for all its overhead and costs in Iraq." Regency would then bill ESS an unknown amount for these services. Kathy Potter told the News and Observer that Regency would "quote ESS a price, say $1,500 per man per day, and then tell Blackwater that it had quoted ESS $1,200." ESS then contracted with Halliburton subsidiary KBR, which in turn billed the government an unknown amount of money for the same security services, according to the paper. KBR/Halliburton refuses to discuss the matter and will not confirm any relationship with ESS.
All this was shady enough--but the real danger for Helvenston and the others lay in Blackwater's decision to cut corners to make even more money. The original contract between Blackwater/Regency and ESS, obtained by The Nation, recognized that "the current threat in the Iraqi theater of operations" would remain "consistent and dangerous," and called for a minimum of three men in each vehicle on security missions "with a minimum of two armored vehicles to support ESS movements." [Emphasis added.]
But on March 12, 2004, Blackwater and Regency signed a subcontract, which specified security provisions identical to the original except for one word: "armored." Blackwater deleted it from the contract. "When they took that word 'armored' out, Blackwater was able to save $1.5 million in not buying armored vehicles, which they could then put in their pocket," says attorney Miles. "These men were told that they'd be operating in armored vehicles. Had they been, I sincerely believe that they'd be alive today. They were killed by insurgents literally walking up and shooting them with small-arms fire. This was not a roadside bomb, it was not any other explosive device. It was merely small-arms fire, which could have been repelled by armored vehicles."
Says Katy Helveston, “Private contractors like Blackwater work outside the scope of the military’s chain of command and can literally do whatever they please without any liability or accountability from the U.S. government. Therefore, Blackwater can continue accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money from the government without having to answer a single question about its security operators.”
What is Blackwater?
From Jeremy Scahill's articles, which are also covered in his book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army:
Blackwater was founded in 1996 by conservative Christian multimillionaire and ex-Navy SEAL Erik Prince--the scion of a wealthy Michigan family whose generous political donations helped fuel the rise of the religious right and the Republican revolution of 1994. At its founding, the company largely consisted of Prince's private fortune and a vast 5,000-acre plot of land located near the Great Dismal Swamp in Moyock, North Carolina. Its vision was "to fulfill the anticipated demand for government outsourcing of firearms and related security training." In the following years, Prince, his family and his political allies poured money into Republican campaign coffers, supporting the party's takeover of Congress and the ascension of George W. Bush to the presidency.
While Blackwater won government contracts during the Clinton era, which was friendly to privatization, it was not until the "war on terror" that the company's glory moment arrived. Almost overnight, following September 11, the company would become a central player in a global war. "I've been operating in the training business now for four years and was starting to get a little cynical on how seriously people took security," Prince told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly shortly after 9/11. "The phone is ringing off the hook now."
Among those calls was one from the CIA, which contracted Blackwater to work in Afghanistan in the early stages of US operations there. In the ensuing years the company has become one of the greatest beneficiaries of the "war on terror," winning nearly $1 billion in noncovert government contracts, many of them no-bid arrangements. In just a decade Prince has expanded the Moyock headquarters to 7,000 acres, making it the world's largest private military base. Blackwater currently has 2,300 personnel deployed in nine countries, with 20,000 other contractors at the ready. It has a fleet of more than twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships and a private intelligence division, and it is manufacturing surveillance blimps and target systems.
In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina its forces deployed in New Orleans, where it billed the federal government $950 per man, per day--at one point raking in more than $240,000 a day. At its peak the company had about 600 contractors deployed from Texas to Mississippi. Since Katrina, it has aggressively pursued domestic contracting, opening a new domestic operations division. Blackwater is marketing its products and services to the Department of Homeland Security, and its representatives have met with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The company has applied for operating licenses in all US coastal states. Blackwater is also expanding its physical presence inside US borders, opening facilities in Illinois and California...
What is not so well-known is that in Washington after Falluja, Blackwater executives kicked into high gear, capitalizing on the company’s newfound recognition. The day after the ambush, it hired the Alexander Strategy Group, a K Street lobbying firm run by former senior staffers of then-majority leader Tom DeLay before the firm’s meltdown in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal. A week to the day after the ambush, Erik Prince was sitting down with at least four senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including its chair, John Warner. Senator Rick Santorum arranged the meeting, which included Warner and two other key Republican senators—Appropriations Committee chair Ted Stevens of Alaska and George Allen of Virginia. This meeting followed an earlier series of face-to-faces Prince had had with powerful House Republicans who oversaw military contracts. Among them: DeLay; Porter Goss, chair of the House Intelligence Committee (and future CIA director); Duncan Hunter, chair of the House Armed Services Committee; and Representative Bill Young, chair of the House Appropriations Committee. What was discussed at these meetings remains a secret. But Blackwater was clearly positioning itself to make the most of its new fame. Indeed, two months later, Blackwater was handed one of the government’s most valuable international security contracts, worth more than $300 million.
As I've stated publicly on this blog before - If there was a draft in this country this Iraqi adventure would never have been embarked upon. Not a chance. Due to the fact that these soldiers all volunteered, there is far less reticence on the part of the government to use them for adventurous purposes, and there is danger in this. Our founding fathers were very distrustful about the idea of professional soldiery. That is why they preferred to see a citizen militia. Now that we have run into a debacle, is the administration looking at either a draft or at a new way of looking at how it engages at conducting foreign policy? No, apparently not. It looks instead as if they are looking at privatizing the military as much as possible to fill the gap. In addition, what does this do to the morale of our own uniformed troops honorably serving their country? If you are in special forces, making 35,000 a year, and your family is living on government cheese, how does $600 to $800 a day working for Blackwater look to you? Is this going to be beneficial or dangerous to our democratic republic in the long run?
The White House, for its part, has turned the issue of accountability of Blackwater and other private security companies into a joke, literally. This April at a forum at Johns Hopkins, Bush was asked by a student about bringing "private military contractors under a system of law," to which Bush replied, laughing, that he was going to ask Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, "I was going to--I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I've got an interesting question [laughter]. This is what delegation--I don't mean to be dodging the question, although it's kind of convenient in this case, but never--[laughter] I really will--I'm going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That's how I work."
More links on Blackwater:
Videos: Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army
Blood Is Thicker Than Blackwater
Bush's Shadow Army