Monday, April 23, 2007


Subject: A POLITICALLY CONNECTED PRIVATE ARMY-truly frightening,0,4485578.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions
Our mercenaries in Iraq
The president relies on thousands of private soldiers with
little oversight, a disturbing example of the military-industrial
By Jeremy Scahill, JEREMY SCAHILL is a fellow at the Nation
Institute and the author of the forthcoming "Blackwater: The Rise of
the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army."
January 25, 2007

AS PRESIDENT BUSH took the podium to deliver his State of the
Union address Tuesday, there were five American families receiving
news that has become all too common: Their loved ones had been killed
in Iraq. But in this case, the slain were neither "civilians," as the
news reports proclaimed, nor were they U.S. soldiers. They were
highly trained mercenaries deployed to Iraq by a secretive private
military company based in North Carolina - Blackwater USA.

The company made headlines in early 2004 when four of its
troops were ambushed and burned in the Sunni hotbed of Fallouja - two
charred, lifeless bodies left to dangle for hours from a bridge. That
incident marked a turning point in the war, sparked multiple U.S.
sieges of Fallouja and helped fuel the Iraqi resistance that haunts
the occupation to this day.

Now, Blackwater is back in the news, providing a reminder of
just how privatized the war has become. On Tuesday, one of the
company's helicopters was brought down in one of Baghdad's most
violent areas. The men who were killed were providing diplomatic
security under Blackwater's $300-million State Department contract,
which dates to 2003 and the company's initial no-bid contract to
guard administrator L. Paul Bremer III in Iraq. Current U.S.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who is also protected by Blackwater,
said he had gone to the morgue to view the men's bodies, asserting
the circumstances of their deaths were unclear because of "the fog of

Bush made no mention of the downing of the helicopter during
his State of the Union speech. But he did address the very issue that
has made the war's privatization a linchpin of his Iraq policy - the
need for more troops. The president called on Congress to authorize
an increase of about 92,000 active-duty troops over the next five
years. He then slipped in a mention of a major initiative that would
represent a significant development in the U.S. disaster
response/reconstruction/war machine: a Civilian Reserve Corps.

"Such a corps would function much like our military Reserve. It
would ease the burden on the armed forces by allowing us to hire
civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when
America needs them," Bush declared. This is precisely what the
administration has already done, largely behind the backs of the
American people and with little congressional input, with its
revolution in military affairs. Bush and his political allies are
using taxpayer dollars to run an outsourcing laboratory. Iraq is its
Frankenstein monster.

Already, private contractors constitute the second-
largest "force" in Iraq. At last count, there were about 100,000
contractors in Iraq, of which 48,000 work as private soldiers,
according to a Government Accountability Office report. These
soldiers have operated with almost no oversight or effective legal
constraints and are an undeclared expansion of the scope of the
occupation. Many of these contractors make up to $1,000 a day, far
more than active-duty soldiers. What's more, these forces are
politically expedient, as contractor deaths go uncounted in the
official toll.

The president's proposed Civilian Reserve Corps was not his
idea alone. A privatized version of it was floated two years ago by
Erik Prince, the secretive, mega-millionaire, conservative owner of
Blackwater USA and a man who for years has served as the Pied Piper
of a campaign to repackage mercenaries as legitimate forces. In early
2005, Prince - a major bankroller of the president and his allies -
pitched the idea at a military conference of a "contractor brigade"
to supplement the official military. "There's consternation in the
[Pentagon] about increasing the permanent size of the Army," Prince
declared. Officials "want to add 30,000 people, and they talked about
costs of anywhere from $3.6 billion to $4 billion to do that. Well,
by my math, that comes out to about $135,000 per soldier." He
added: "We could do it certainly cheaper."

And Prince is not just a man with an idea; he is a man with his
own army. Blackwater began in 1996 with a private military training
camp "to fulfill the anticipated demand for government outsourcing."
Today, its contacts run from deep inside the military and
intelligence agencies to the upper echelons of the White House. It
has secured a status as the elite Praetorian Guard for the global war
on terror, with the largest private military base in the world, a
fleet of 20 aircraft and 20,000 soldiers at the ready.

From Iraq and Afghanistan to the hurricane-ravaged streets of
New Orleans to meetings with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about
responding to disasters in California, Blackwater now envisions
itself as the FedEx of defense and homeland security operations. Such
power in the hands of one company, run by a neo-crusader bankroller
of the president, embodies the "military-industrial complex"
President Eisenhower warned against in 1961.

Further privatizing the country's war machine - or inventing
new back doors for military expansion with fancy names like the
Civilian Reserve Corps - will represent a devastating blow to the
future of American democracy.


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