Saturday, June 16, 2007

Contractors = Mercenaries

US private security companies are reportedly getting increasingly involved in military action in
Iraq fighting insurgents, suffering attacks and taking hundreds of casualties that have been sometimes concealed. The security companies are funded by billions of dollars in US military and State Department contracts . House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman estimates that $4 billion in taxpayer money has so far been spent in Iraq on these armed "security" companies like Blackwater--with tens of billions more going to other war companies like KBR and Fluor for "logistical" support. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of the House Intelligence Committee believes that up to forty cents of every dollar spent on the occupation has gone to war contractors.

The majority of the more than 100 security companies operate outside of Iraqi law . Blackwater USA, a North Carolina firm that protects US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and several other companies have not applied for Iraqi licenses . There is absolutely no effective system of oversight or accountability governing contractors and their operations, nor is there any effective law--military or civilian--being applied to their activities. They have not been subjected to military courts martial (despite a recent Congressional attempt to place them under the Uniform Code of Military Justice), nor have they been prosecuted in US civilian courts--and, no matter what their acts in Iraq, they cannot be prosecuted in Iraqi courts. Before Paul Bremer, Bush's viceroy in Baghdad, left Iraq in 2004 he issued an edict, known as Order 17 . It immunized contractors from prosecution in Iraq . Only two individuals have been ever indicted for crimes there. One with stabbing a fellow contractor, another for the possession of child-pornography . While dozens of American soldiers have been court-martialed--sixty-four on murder-related charges--not a single armed contractor has been prosecuted for a crime against an Iraqi. In some cases, where contractors were alleged to have been involved in crimes or deadly incidents, their companies whisked them out of Iraq to safety.

The US military uses 20,000 to 30,000 contractors [ read mercenaries ] . According to the Government Accountability Office, there are now some 48,000 employees [ read mercenaries ] of private military companies in Iraq. Armed contractors [ read mercenaries ] protect all convoys transporting reconstruction materiel, including vehicles, weapons and ammunition for the Iraqi army and police. They guard key US military installations and provide personal security for at least three commanding generals .

One in seven supply convoys protected by private forces has come under attack this year.

One security company reported nearly 300 "hostile actions" in the first four months .

The logistics directorate reported that 132 security contractors and truck drivers had been killed and 416 wounded since fall 2004. Four security contractors and a truck driver remained missing, and 208 vehicles were destroyed. Only convoys registered with the logistics directorate are counted in the statistics, and the total number of casualties is believed to be higher. Other estimates are at least 770 contractors [ read mercenaries ] have been killed in Iraq and at least another 7,700 injured.

Blackwater protects the US ambassador and other senior officials in Iraq as well as visiting Congressional delegations; it trains Afghan security forces and was deployed in the oil-rich Caspian Sea region, setting up a "command and control" center just miles from the Iranian border. The company was also hired to protect FEMA operations and facilities in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina . At present, it has forces deployed in nine countries and boasts a database of 21,000 additional troops at the ready, a fleet of more than twenty aircraft, including helicopter gun-ships, and the world's largest private military facility--a 7,000 acre compound near the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina. It recently opened a new facility in Illinois ("Blackwater North") and is fighting local opposition to a third planned domestic facility near San Diego ("Blackwater West") by the Mexican border.

The man behind this empire is Erik Prince, a secretive, conservative Christian, ex-Navy SEAL multimillionaire . Among Blackwater's senior executives are Cofer Black, former head of counterterrorism at the CIA; Robert Richer, former Deputy Director of Operations at the CIA; Joseph Schmitz, former Pentagon Inspector General; and an impressive array of other retired military and intelligence officials. Company executives recently announced the creation of a new private intelligence company, "Total Intelligence," to be headed by Black and Richer.

Even if the "official" U.S. military presence shrinks and if there is an American-UK withdrawal" from the war , Bush's use of military security contractors [ read mercenaries ] would , as Erik Leaver of the Institute for Policy Studies points out "...allow the President to continue the war using a mercenary army."

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