Jeremy Scahill, ‘Blackwater’

Jeremy Scahill, ‘Blackwater’

Scary. Scandalous. An alarm call for faltering democracy in the United States. You simply must read this book.

The subtitle to Scahill’s book appears relatively benign: ‘The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army‘. This is a mercenary army based in the US who regularly employ foreign nationals, some of them trained by the most notorious regimes of the late 20th Century.

Without any bidding or oversight, a single company has won more than $500m worth of security contracts in Iraq alone. This does not include the far more profitable monies for so-called ‘black’ ops which include extra-ordinary renditions. One of more than sixty mercenary companies working in this theatre of operations, Blackwater Worldwide (formerly, Blackwater USA) has a hotline to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and when former associates such as J. Cofer Black and become embroiled in controversy and proven to be unable to effectively deal with the responsibilities in conducting a ‘war on terror’*, they are simply appointed to the board of this same company.

Remember four US civilian contractors getting killed in Fallujah? They were ex-military and were employed as ‘security contractors’.ie. mercenaries. Due to cost-cutting by their employer – Darkwater USA, as it was then – these four men were not in armoured vehicles. Worse than this, according to standard operating procedure there should have been at least two others with them plus heavy machine guns to cover all fields of fire. Do you remember what happened next? In revenge, the US Marines laid waste to Fallujah. Semper Fidelis or, as the late Kurt Vonnegut would have put it: ‘So it goes.’

Far more disturbing is the arrogant self-confidence that underlies the growth of this company from an advanced private training ground in North Carolina to the largest privately-owned military in the world. Founded from inherited wealth by Erik D Prince, a former Navy SEAL officer, Prince also served as an intern in the White House under President George H.W. Bush. Of his time there, Prince said: “I saw a lot of things I didn’t agree with—homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act, those kinds of bills.” Yeah, he’s one those… or as former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards put it, Prince is one of George W Bush’s ‘political cronies’.

It’s worse than that. Much much worse. Here, is a quote that relates how the most incompetent/ corrupt (delete as as you find the facts) Inspector General of the Department of Defence, Joseph E Schmitz is involved in Blackwater:

…Schmitz’s interest in Blackwater (or Blackwater’s in Schmitz) was not simply about his dedication to the wars of the Bush administration, the fact that he worked for the Reagan administration, that he represented then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, or his involvement in the murky, corrupt world of military contractors. All of these were certainly factors, but the connection ran deeper. Joseph Schmitz, like Erik Prince and other executives at Blackwater, was a Catholic and a Christian fundamentalist. Some would go so far as to say he was a religious fanatic obsessed with implementing “the rule of law under God.” In numerous speeches given during his time as Pentagon Inspector General, Schmitz articulated his vision and understanding of the global war on terror, employing the rhetoric of Christian supremacy… On his official biography, Schmitz proudly listed his membership in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a Christian militia found in the eleventh century, before the first Crusades, with the mission of defending “territories that the Crusaders had conquered from the Moslems.”

This quote is not so out of context as it may seem. One of Paul Bremer‘s last acts as Governor of Iraq was to issue Order 17 which granted mercenaries immunity from prosecution for acts committed in Iraq. What did Bremer know about the Christian mercenaries guarding him in a Muslim nation? This legislation has only recently been repealed as a consequence of action taken by Blackwater employees but why the need for this order in the first place? As Representative Dennis Kucinich pointed out, U.S. troops are subjected to enforceable rules of engagement and have, in fact, been prosecuted for violations. In one of the very rare Congressional hearings on contractors in Iraq, Kucinich questioned Shay Assad, the Pentagon’s director of Defense Procurement and Acquisition:

Kucinich: Do you know what the statute of limitation is for murder in the United States?

Assad: No, I don’t, Mr. Congressman.

Kucinich: There isn’t – there isn’t one. Now, if someone connected with a private contracting company was involved in the murder of a civilian, would the Department be ready to recommend their prosecution?

Assad: Sir, I’m just not qualified to answer that question.

Incredulous, Kucinich asked Assad and the other government officials on the panel, “Anybody here qualified to answer that, and if they’re not, why are you here, with all due respect?”…

Kucinich: Would the Department of Defense be prepared to see a prosecution proffered against any private contractor who is demonstrated to have unlawfully killed a civilian?

“Sir, I can’t answer that question,” Assad replied.

“Wow,” Kucinich shot back. “Think about what that means. These private contractors can get away with murder.”

Beyond killing innocent people and all the legal liabilities that result, why has such a profitable company not been persuaded to float and become a listed, public company? Scrutiny? Transparency? What can ‘patriotic Americans’ have to fear from that? This is a private army that could topple the governments of many countries unaided. It claims to act on behalf of the United States but acts against international law, and worse yet for truly patriotic US citizens, against US law (only federal government agents are allowed stop-and-search powers, a power extended to Blackwater personnel in the wake of Hurricane Katrina). This is a company that aspires to be a continuing fifth branch of the U.S. military and whose operations are essentially funded by tax-payer money. This is a company that has escaped censure thanks to backing from the same senior Republicans who have dispensed with founding articles of the republic and whom all adhere to a consistent, extreme right-wing agenda…. Whatever – this book doesn’t ask – can The Dark Prince be planning?

Such a question is not so flippant – or comical – as it may seem because the cronyism lies so close to home. Blackwater mercenaries were deployed on US soil in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. These mercenaries were granted stop-and-search powers that traditionally remain with local police. They were similarly authorised to shoot people on US soil. Does no-one seem concerned? Well, there was at that time a certain ‘inexperienced’ Senator:

As countless guns poured into New Orleans, there was a distinct absence of relief operations, food, and water distribution. The presence of the mercenaries raised another important question: given the enormous presence in New Orleans of National Guard, U.S. Army, U.S. Border Patrol, local police from around the country, and practically every other government agency with badges, why were private security companies needed, particularly to guard federal projects? “I don’t know that there are any terrorist attacks being planned against FEMA offices in the Gulf Coast,” said Illinois Senator Barack Obama, “It strikes me, with all the National Guardsmen that we’ve got down there, with a bunch of local law enforcement that are back on the job and putting their lives back together again, that that may not be the best use of money.”

That is one more reason why anyone in any doubt should be backing this guy. Though whether that fits with Erik Prince and his friend’s plans for the future of the United States of America is anyone’s guess.

Read this book. You’ll quite likely help to save your country.

Link to Amazon

* J. Cofer Black was appointed by George Tenet to be Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) and was in charge of tracking bin Laden on September 11, 2001. Can’t be helped you think? J. Cofer Black and bin Laden were crossing swords in Sudan in the 1990s under the previous President.