Have Gun, Will Travel

Widespread use of mercenaries in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Latin America by the Bush Administration has drawn the attention of the United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, according to upsidedownworld.com.

“We have observed that in some cases the employees of private military and security companies enjoy an immunity which can easily become impunity,” says Jose Luis Gomez del Pardo, chair of the UN Working Group, “implying that some states may contract these companies in order to avoid direct legal responsibilities.”

The Working Group found that mercenaries were recruited from throughout Latin America and then flown to Ecuador to train at the huge U.S. base at Manta. Others were trained in Honduras at a former training camp used during the Reagan Administration’s war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

According to the Working Group, mercenaries working for a subsidiary of an Illinois-based company, Your Solutions Inc., suffered “irregularities in contracts, harsh working conditions, wages partially paid or unpaid, ill-treatment and isolation and lack of basic necessities such as medical treatment and sanitation.”

A major reason for using private security companies is that they are not subject to Congressional oversight.

Jeffrey Shipper, who worked at Manta for DynCorp, told the Los Angeles Times that a major reason for using Latin American mercenaries was that, “The State Department is very interested in saving money on security now. Because they’re driving the prices down, we’re seeking Third World people to fill the positions.”

While most American and British mercenaries earn up to $10,000 a month, Latin Americans get $1,000. Last summer, dozens of former Colombian soldiers went on strike in Baghdad because Blackwater USA, a major security firm, promised them $4,000 a month, but paid them only $1,000.

According to the Financial Times, there are hundreds of Mercenaries from Colombia, Ecuador and Chile working in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Hilla. Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Study estimates that there are 50,000 mercenaries working in Iraq, making them the second largest armed contingent after the U.S.

Cheap wages are only one of the ways that the security companies increase their profit margin. Because the firms are private they don’t have to operate with safeguards. Blackwater’s flight BW61 out of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan is a case in point.

The plane- flying during the day in clear weather-was carrying mortar shells and soldiers when it hit a mountain peak last November, killing everyone on board. The pilots had been in Afghanistan less than two weeks.

“This was infinitely worse than any armed forces flight would have been. It [a military flight] would have had triple redundancy, with checklists,” the lawyer for the families of the passengers told the New York Times. Even though the plane was unpressurized and flying at 14,000 feet, neither of the pilots was wearing an oxygen mask.

The Americans are not the only ones recruiting mercenaries. Over 1,000 Fijians work in Iraq for the British company Global Risk Strategies. According to Jone Dakuvula, the director of Citizens Constitutional Forum, a non-governmental public education organization, many Fijians who have gone to Iraq have never been paid, but can’t come home because their passports have been impounded.

Dakuvula says that high unemployment in rural areas is the main impetus for signing up to go to Iraq. According to Dakuvula, many Fijians come home wounded and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress to find there are no medical or psychological resources.

Iraq is now a major source of foreign exchange for the Pacific nation. Personal remittances have climbed from $50 million in 1999 to over $300 million in 2005, or seven percent of Fiji’s GDP.

Whether it is Brits or Yanks hiring the mercenaries makes little difference. Getting other people to die for you is cheap and politically safe. The body bags and the maimed return to places most Americans and British will never see or think about.

CONN HALLINAN is an analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, a winner of a Project Censored Award, and did his PhD dissertation on the history of insurrectionary organizations in Ireland.



Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com