The words “Support Our Troops” stain the rear bumpers of thousands of cars. The slogan, however, conceals a more pernicious demand: “Support Our Mercenaries.” Yes, in Iraq, the mercenaries–euphemistically called “paid contractors”–outnumber US troops, 180,000 to 160,000. These contractors do more than provide armed security for US personnel. They do chores that previously belonged to regular army staff.
Private security companies employ for high pay former US soldiers, ex-kidnappers and torturers from Pinochet’s secret police, death squad heavies from a variety of Central and South American countries and a few leftover South African apartheid thugs as well. The companies collect billions from US taxpayers. A typical U.S. soldier serving in Iraq makes about: $57 a day. The estimated daily take for a Blackwater security guard there runs between $500- $600. (FACING SOUTH A News and Politics Report Sept. 26, 2007)
Imagine a scene in the corporate boardroom of Whitepiss Security Inc., a typical contractor with the Pentagon located in Upper South Carolina. The Chief executive, a former Special Forces veteran who was friends with Timothy McVey, and a diehard supporter of the Confederacy cause, refuses to use the word “North.” This descendent of the slave holding Col. Beauregard Fathorn gleefully counts his profits derived from providing “security” in Iraq. Then he shares his thoughts with fellow executives: “The Eyerack War,” he says, “has become the most beautiful thing that has happened to this country since the glorious attack at Fort Sumter. It has awakened us from the sloth of peace and prosperity brought about by the treasonous Clinton Administration.”
In 1997, a former Navy Seal from a rich family figured out how to sell violence and enhance his wealth. Blackwater on its webpage disguises both its greed and its murderous intent by referring to “understanding of the need for innovative, flexible training and operational solutions to support security and peace, and freedom and democracy everywhere.” CEO and founder Eric Prince believed “the military and law enforcement establishments would require additional capacity to train fully our brave men and women in and out of uniform to the standards required to keep our country secure.”
The Website advertises “not simply a ‘private security company.’ “We are a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations firm who provides turnkey solutions. We assist with the development of national and global security policies and military transformation plans. We can train, equip and deploy public safety and military professionals, build live-fire indoor/outdoor ranges, MOUT facilities and shoot houses, create ground and aviation operations and logistics support packages, develop and execute canine solutions for patrol and explosive detection, and can design and build facilities both domestically and in austere environments abroad.” One could easily read this as an appeal to Congress to direct the entire military budget away from the Pentagon and toward Blackwater? Indeed, Prince has donated $200,000 to the Republican Party. (FACING SOUTH)
Coincidentally, Blackwater ranks first among 140 private security contractors in Iraq. And its employees have killed more Iraqis than its rivals. (NY Times September 27) The estimated worth of its contracts there runs about $300 million. Why not? Blackwater advertises itself as “the most responsive, cost-effective means of affecting the strategic balance in support of security and peace, and freedom and democracy everywhere.” Indeed, mercenaries have become “the fastest-growing industry in the global economy.” The Independent quotes Peter Singer, a security analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington, who calculated that “security contractors” make more than $120 billion annually. They have operations in at least 50 countries. “The rate of growth in the security industry has been phenomenal,” says Deborah Avant, a professor of political science at UCLA. The single largest spur to this boom is the conflict in Iraq.”
The Los Angeles Times estimated the number of employees belonging to US military contractors in Iraq at 182,000, 22,000 more than the 160,000 US troops there. 21,000 are US citizens. As of July 1, more than 1000 of these “contractors had died; almost 12,000 were wounded. (Reuters July 4, 2007)
Scrutiny for this privatized violence came about because of the September 16 killings of Iraqi civilians carried out by Blackwater Security employees in Baghdad. Even the US puppet government responded in anger to the slaying and wounding of what they claim are as many as 28 civilians–including small children. Heavily armed Blackwater guards fired from armored cars and then called in Blackwater helicopters to blast the residents with more firepower from the air. Iraqi investigators claim they have a videotape that shows Blackwater USA guards opened fire against the civilians without provocation, claimed a senior Iraqi official. (AP September 22, 2007)
Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki responded to the public outcry by demanding that Blackwater and its 1,000 plus armed private army leave. He declared the Blackwater thugs’ behavior “a flagrant assault” and a crime that outraged the Iraqi people. He then “banned” Blackwater from Iraq.
Less than three days later, however, Maliki’s puppet masters in Washington notified him that they would not allow him to expel Blackwater, whose absence would leave “a security vacuum” in Baghdad. “If we drive out or expel this company immediately there will be a security vacuum that will demand pulling some troops that work in the field so that we can protect these institutes,” Iraqi government spokesman Tahseen al-Sheikhly obediently informed a press conference. (Reuters)
To cover up the issue of “sovereignty,” however, Washington agreed to “investigate allegations” that Blackwater thugs had shot down Iraqi civilians in cold blood. In the meantime, Blackwater heavies returned to their “guard” duties protecting US officials.
Iraqis have learned that the US private forces act with impunity. Not one of the approximately 48,000 private military thugs in Iraq has been convicted of a crime. A 2004 edict by proconsul Jerry Bremer removed these “contractors” from Iraqi court jurisdiction. Neither the Iraqi nor the US government has kept formal records about how many Iraqis have died or been wounded by Blackwater gunslingers and their fellow “security” guards.
The Independent quoted a high-ranking US military commander: “These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There’s no authority over them, so you can’t come down on them hard when they escalate force. They shoot people.” (Independent Sept. 21, 2007)
The mass media downplayed the fact that Abu Ghraib translators and as many as half of its interrogators came from this private war sector. Nor did they widely report that “contractors” pay far better wages than the Pentagon offers to US troops; so it should be surprising to find “hired soldiers” training and doing war-gaming — before the Iraq invasion. Private contractors built Camp Doha in Kuwait, which Bush used as his launch-pad for the 2003 invasion.
Without Blackwater and the other 179 “private contractors” who “help” the US military by providing “logistical support” and “security services,” the President might have to call for 160,000 more troops for Iraq. That would mean he’d have to demand a draft.
But not to worry! Modern Republicans masquerading as conservatives stand for privatizing everything — even military activities. When Darth Vader served as Defense Secretary under Bush the First he began the “efficiency” move to cut troops and increase private contractor roles for military operations. Indeed, Cheney displayed an almost genetic weakness for using private rather than public enterprise, especially as profit-making killers. Coincidentally, Halliburton, which Cheney moved on to lead as CEO, became a major recipient of such contracts. Clinton continued this Republican, rational approach to war in the former Yugoslavia. (See Jeremy Scahill’s, Blackwater: the Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army)
Democrats might begin to use imagination as well, a better use of their body functions than hand wringing, and expose the mercenary quality of Bush’s war. By laying out the mercenaries’ bloody record in Iraq and then presenting the tens of billons the taxpayers shell out to these murderers, the Democrats could demand a real cut in the military budget. Just lop off the amount spent on “contractors.” Hey, they could still claim they support the troops and accuse the Republicans of supporting the mercenaries!
SAUL LANDAU writes a regular column for CounterPunch and progresoweekly.com. His new Counterpunch Press book is A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD. His new film, WE DON’T PLAY GOLF HERE (on globalization in Mexico) won the VIDEOFEST 2007 Award for best activist video. The event was held in October at the Roxie Theater. The film is available through firstname.lastname@example.org