Monday, August 15, 2005



"By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils-- a ravaged country-- a depopulated city-- habitations without safety, and slavery without hope-- our homes turned into barracks and bawdy-houses for Hessians, and a future race to provide for, whose fathers we shall doubt of. Look on this picture and weep over it!" The reference to "Hessians" should give you a clue that this is not some Iraqi mullah exhorting Muslims in a mosque to fight the occupiers of their country. And you'd be correct. It's a 1776 quote from the most "leftist" of the American Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine. And although it is painfully true that no one from Hesse of any other German states are fighting in Iraq, the term "Hessian" has come to mean more than soldiers from Hesse and that meaning is important in understand a key element of Bush's disastrous policies in Iraq.

If you went to junior high school in the U.S. you probably heard the fearful phrase "The Hessians are coming! The Hessians are coming!" That the German mercenary troops employed by the British in the American War of Independence were reputed to be heartless, even blood-thirsty barbarians, is part of our nation's Founding Mythology. A right-wing/militarist blog points out that "The Hessians were ruthless German mercenaries hired by King George III to fight the rebellious colonies, and were infamous for their wanton and indiscriminate cruelty. Indeed, the word 'Hessian' has often been used to describe soldiers-for-hire who rape, pillage, and lay waste to the countryside -- regardless of their national origin." There was around 30,000 of them in the British Army in the American colonies-- approximately one third of the total force. The rulers of the German principalities, not just Hesse-Kassel but also Anhalt-Zerbst, Anspach-Bayreuth, Brunswick-Luneburg, Nassau, Hesse-Hanau, and Waldeck, rented their soldiers to George III. Historian George F. Smith pointed out, in an essay about Washington's successful crossing of the Delaware to attack the British (Hessian mercenaries) in Trenton on Christmas Day that "Hessian brutality swung many New Jersey neutrals to the American cause..."

According to a recent article in JANE'S DEFENSE, the US has enormously increased is use of mercenaries, or what they prefer to call 'Private Security firms,' in Bush's war in Iraq. Use of these contractors isn't new, but never before have these mercenaries formed so much of a US military force. According to the article, "out of a total $85 billion allocated by the USA for military operations in the Middle East this year, over a third will go to private contractors" (considerably higher than the defense budgets of most countries).

Knowing Bush's rogue attitude towards treaties and international laws in general, let's leave aside, for a moment, that long established international law has prohibited the USE of mercenaries and, instead look at some of the inherent problems of their widespread use. I recall one of the first big thunderclaps about the occupation of Iraq was the mass media's hysteria and manufactured outrage when 4 mercenaries were strung up under a bridge after being killed in Falluja. Fox "News" the tails they wag at CNN and the other propaganda outlets never referred to them as mercenaries, only as "civilian contractors." You might have has the idea they were putting in asphalt driveways in a Falluja neighborhood-- or helping repair the destroyed water or electrical systems. But they weren't. They were fighting-- and fighting by their own rules. The private mercenaries in Iraq appear not to be subject to the same (Pentagon or Geneva Convention) rules as our own soldiers. They have virtually no legal restraints. The illegitimate Bush Regime, from the day they stole the election in 2000, has never played by any accepted rules in anything. Has anyone not noticed that they always look for ways to circumvent international obligations and restraints? Turning prisoners over to other countries for interrogation who don't care how they "look" about the use of torture is an example of how the short-sited, arrogant and abysmally ignorant Bush Regime attempts to get around the rules of the Geneva Conventions-- and the widespread use of mercenaries is another tune in Rumsfeld's disgraceful dancing around Truth, morality and legality. Many very serious excesses, torture and brutality have been linked to mercenaries ('private contractors') who have been hired on as interrogators of Iraqi POWs.

What is driving so many Iraqis to suicide attacks on the occupation forces (and their homegrown allies)? Even the Japanese-- remember how effectively they used kamikaze pilots in the battles of Leyte Bay and Okinawa-- eventually accepted unconditional surrender. Why are Iraqis still martyring themselves? Can it be because they have seen things our army of occupation (particularly the mercenaries) has done--mass arrests, brute force searches, random round-ups, imprisonments, humiliations and tortures... and the kind of behavior that engenders so much hopelessness as to make otherwise sane people take the prospect of martyrdom seriously. Remember, to an 18th century British Redcoat, an American "patriot" was nothing but a terrorist and a cowardly traitor, fighting behind trees and using sneak attacks, burning the homes and destroying the property of Loyalists.
Not surprisingly, the Bush corporate propaganda machine can make a lot of hay and generate a lot of emotional response towards "bloodthirsty Iraqi terrorists" who massacre fellow Iraqis who've collaborated with the American "Coalition." Yet these Iraqis wage war as the Vietcong waged it, as WE would wage it if we were the occupied country and turncoat Americans collaborated with the occupying army. We wouldn't fight fair; many Americans-- conservative or liberal-- would fight just as fiercely.

This all brings me to a piece in yesterday's NEW YORK TIMES, "The Other Army" by Daniel Bergner. It's everything-- and more-- than anyone needs to know about the U.S. use of mercenaries under the Bush Regime. It's very long. I'm going to leave out Bergner's exciting "color" and quote the main facts. He points out that no one even seems to know-- or is willing to admit knowing-- how many mercenaries, or even mercenary firms, are active in Iraq, although the figure, ironically, is similar to the numbers of Hessians the British had in the American colonies-- and between 15 and 20% of the total U.S occupation presence. (This article isn't counting military contingents sent by other governments as mercenaries, although in many cases that is exactly what they are-- and more akin to the Hessian model than the "private security firms," in which the individual mercenaries are very
highly paid; the Hessians' payment went directly to the German princes who sent them.) In any case, Bergner states that "the estimates, from industry representatives and the tiny sector of academics who study the issues of privatized war, are so vague that they serve only to confirm the chaos of Iraq and the fact that-- despite an attempt at licensing the firms by the fledgling Iraqi Interior Ministry-- no one is really keeping track of all the businesses that provide squads of soldiers equipped with assault rifles and belt-fed light machine guns." Reasonable estimates seem to range between 60 and 100 private (unregulated) firms with armed mercenaries in Iraq.

Much of Bergner's story is about one called Triple Canopy which "has about 1,000 men in Iraq, about 200 of them American and almost all the rest from Chile and Fiji. Its rivals include British firms that draw from the elite units of the U.K. military and outfits that draw from South African veterans of the wars to save apartheid. Australians and Ukrainians and Romanians and Iraqis are all making their livings in the business. Many have experience as soldiers; some have been in law enforcement. The firms guard the huge American corporations struggling to carry out Iraq's reconstruction. The private gunmen try to hold the insurgents at bay so that supplies can be delivered and power stations can be built. And companies like Triple Canopy shield American government compounds from attack. With guns poking out from sport utility vehicles, they usher American officials from meeting to meeting. They defend the buildings and people whom the insurgency would most like to reach." Another of these firms, Blackwater USA protected Paul Bremer III, surely the highest-value target when he was the U.S. tribune/dictator in Baghdad. Private gunmen guard 4 U.S. generals, and even protect large military bases as well as essential military sites like depots of captured munitions. "Yet it is hard to discern who authorized this particular outsourcing as military policy," states Bergner, as though this were an anomaly is Bush Regime operating procedure. "No open policy debate took place; no executive order was publicly issued. And who is in charge of overseeing these armed men? One thing is sure: they are crucial to the war effort. In the world of companies like Triple Canopy, a great deal of importance is attached to a very few words. The word 'mercenaries' is despised. The phrase 'private military company' is heatedly dismissed as inaccurate. 'Private security company' (or P.S.C.) is the term of art."

Bergner points out the mercenaries have been around since pre-Biblical times but that the 18th and 19th centuries brought new ideas about the "sanctity of the nation and the honor of the citizen in soldiering for it. Those who fought for profit, rather than patriotism were completely delegitimized... "and in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 it was essentially outlawed, at least in wars between nations."

"In 2002, the U.S. government hired about 40 private gunmen, from the American company DynCorp, to keep President Hamid Karzai alive in Afghanistan. And in the spring of 2003, as Gen. Jay Garner, retired, established the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the short-lived precursor to the C.P.A., as the occupation's governing body in Iraq, the Pentagon put a small contingent of South Africans and Nepalese Gurkhas from the British firm Global Risk Strategies in charge of protecting him and his staff. 'That,' Garner told me when we spoke last month, 'was the genesis' of the rise of private security companies in Iraq. The numbers, at the start of the occupation, were not large. Then, in the second half of 2003, as the C.P.A. expanded its presence across the country in its attempt to rule and rebuild, and as the insurgency mounted, the C.P.A. turned away from the coalition forces, which had been providing a measure of protection, and looked to the companies for safety. Andrew Bearpark, the C.P.A.'s director of operations during that period, explained to me that he was closely and strongly advised by the U.S. military in Iraq -- and financed by the Department of Defense -- to make this move."

He goes on to explain that the U.S. corporations being paid BILLIONS of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money to do the rebuilding were spending up to 25% of their U.S. government money on hired protection. "The deployment of private gunmen grew and grew into a profusion that may be explained partly by the subtle shift in perception that had removed some of the old mercenary stigma, and partly by the emphasis on outsourcing that had been gathering momentum in the U.S. military since the early 1990's (but that had been focused on logistical, unarmed support). Most immediately, though, the explosive growth may be explained by the strength of the insurgency in Iraq and by the apparent fact that there weren't enough troops on the ground to fight it. (Bergner doesn't address how General Shinseki was sacked for his accurate predictions about troop strength, nor of course, how Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill was immediately fired when he pointed out that the war would cost over $200 billion. The Bush Regime neo-cons frothed at both of these honest civil servants but both have been proven to have been tragically correct.) According to Garner, "the fundamental reason for the C.P.A.'s hiring of the companies... 'The military just hadn't provided enough numbers. It was stretched to the limit.'"

"The Department of Defense is reluctant to discuss the role of security companies in Iraq and precisely how it got so big. Over several weeks I called the Pentagon repeatedly, asking whether the secretary of defense or one of his under secretaries had, at any point, deliberated about the presence of some 25,000 armed men or perhaps authorized it in one way or another, piecemeal or in its entirety. These questions -- which no one I spoke to was able to answer -- elicited from departmental press officers a series of unfulfilled promises to help me get an answer. In the end, they sent an officially approved written statement, which detoured fully around the questions but included the key line, "P.S.C.'s are not being used to perform inherently military functions."
The Pentagon's reticence on the issue may be due to uneasiness over the now-common accusation that it didn't adequately plan for battling an insurgency. (It may view questions about private gunmen as leading inevitably to questions about troop numbers.) But there is most likely an additional discomfort, a lingering problem with the companies' public image. For the shift in perception hasn't been complete; the hated word "mercenaries" still hovers near. With this problem, the firms are doing their best to help. Many of them have tried to rechristen themselves again, to further separate themselves from the past, from the old infamy of ruthless, insurrection-stirring white freelancers in Africa, to make their work palatable to all."

"It is impossible to say exactly how many private security men have been killed in Iraq. Deaths go unreported. But the figure... is probably between 160 and 200. That's more deaths than any one of America's coalition partners have suffered. 'Some people will tell you they're here for Mom and apple pie,' a private security man with another company told me. (He didn't want his or his company's name printed, he said, because neither his colleagues nor the industry in general think kindly of conversations with the media.) 'That's bull. It's the money... I'm richer than I've ever been,' he said. 'I'm not in debt to nobody.' He had jowls and loose swells of flesh beneath his T-shirt. 'Don't let the package fool you,' the ex-Delta colonel who introduced us had told me. 'He's a commando from way back.' After a career in Special Forces, the man said, he hadn't seemed able to survive in the civilian world. Work in construction fell apart. He drank heavily. He took a job as a cashier in a convenience store -- 'till I found out I had to smile at the customers.' He laughed ruefully at his inability to adapt. But now, when his 16-year-old son sent him an e-mail message from back home in South Carolina, with a picture to prove that he'd mowed the lawn the way his mother had asked, he could buy the boy some tech equipment as a gift. 'I'll stay until this is over,' he said. 'The money's too good.' He didn't specify his salary, but Americans and other Westerners in the business tend to make between $400 and $700 a day, sometimes a good deal more. (The non-Westerners earn far less. Triple Canopy's Fijians and Chileans make between $40 and $150 dollars each week and sleep in crowded barracks at the Baghdad base, while the Americans sleep in their own dorm rooms. The company explained the difference in salaries in terms of the Americans' far superior military backgrounds and their higher-risk assignments.) "

"There is no effective regulation in Iraq of whom the firms hire or how the men are trained or how they conduct themselves. 'At best you've got professionals doing their best in a chaotic and aggressive environment,' Lyle Hendrick said in an e-mail from Iraq in July, describing his colleagues in private security there. He had spent six months with one company in the country's north and is now with another down in Basra. 'At worst you've got cowboys running almost unchecked, shooting at will and just plain O.T.F. (Out There Flappin')... This whole thing has brought out some pretty scary characters.' He mentioned a newspaper article about one of the men he'd worked alongside. The man was arrested when he went on leave back to the States. Apparently the security company hadn't done much of a background check, if it had done one at all; it turned out the man was a fugitive in Massachusetts. He had been charged with embezzlement. He had also violated the terms of a suspended sentence in a separate case, a local paper in Lowell, Mass., explained: he'd been convicted of assault 'for nearly blowing a friend's jaw off during a game of Russian Roulette.'"

"No one knows how many times gunfire from a private security team has wounded a bystander or killed an innocent driver who ventured too close to a convoy, not realizing that mere proximity would be taken for a threat. When they fire their weapons in defense or warning, the teams rarely concern themselves with checking for casualties -- it would be too dangerous; they are in the middle of a war. Besides, no one in power is watching too closely. And what rules exist seem to be ignored. A C.P.A. decree, which has now evolved into Iraqi law, limits the caliber and type of weapons that private security personnel employ. But I was told by several people in the business that, especially outside Baghdad, weapons like heavy machine guns and grenades are -- perhaps by necessity -- sometimes part of the arsenal."

"Back in October of last year, a Congressional bill demanded that the Department of Defense come up with a plan to manage the security companies -- to investigate individual backgrounds and inculcate rules of engagement and enforce compliance. Until then, according to a Pentagon official with knowledge of the process who asked not to be named because the Pentagon plan is still being finalized, the department had been at work, for many months, on doctrine dealing in a general way with all types of private contractors in Iraq but not specifically addressing the huge sector of gunmen. It seems that only the October bill drove the Pentagon to formally account for the most vital, and potentially most troubling, part of its outsourcing. Congress gave the department six months to produce its plan. Nine months have passed. The Pentagon has now promised the document any day; there's no telling whether it will change anything -- what guidelines it will give, what level of commitment will be behind them. When I asked the Pentagon official about who would enforce the rules in Iraq, I was told that the country's new sovereignty would be 'the context.' It was hard not to think that the infant government of Iraq would be left mostly on its own to control the thousands of private gunmen that the American-led occupation has introduced to the country. It was hard not to think that the companies would be left to govern themselves."

"Fourteen armed security men, traveling in a convoy through Fallujah in May, were detained by U.S. Marines, the first and only time, it appears, that the military has made such a detention. A Marine memo, quoted in The Washington Post, accused the men, who worked for a company called Zapata Engineering, of 'repeatedly firing weapons at civilians and marines, erratic driving and possession of illegal weapons' -- six anti-tank weapons, the Zapata men later explained, kept for defense and condoned, they claimed, by the U.S. military. The security men (eight of them former marines) said they had fired only typical warning shots at civilians. They insisted that their bullets had never struck close to any servicemen. They suggested that their detention -- which lasted three days before they were released, without charges so far -- was driven by jealousy over their pay. They told of being roughed up and taunted, of being asked, 'How does it feel to be a rich contractor now?' This kind of resentment may be deepening" (and) "may be corrosive. And the private security companies are, almost surely, eroding elite sectors of the military; the best-qualified troops, the men most desirable to the companies, are lured by private salaries that can be well more than twice their own. The Special Forces have lately responded with re-enlistment bonuses of up to $150,000. It's not enough. One Triple Canopy man in his mid-30's, with about 15 years of Special Operations experience, told me that his commander had begged him to stay in the service. 'But there was no way,' he said. 'Here I get to be with the best and make so much more money.' Triple Canopy, Mann had said to me, has a policy of never recruiting directly from the military. But when this man quit the Army, he knew exactly where he wanted to go. And plenty of his old friends from 'the unit' -- a Delta soldier's oblique way of referring to his exclusive caste -- were poised to follow."

"There may be a danger that something else could erode eventually, if there is a drift toward using more private gunmen -- in yet more military ways -- to compensate for the inevitable reduction of troops in Iraq or to wage other wars. There may be the loss of a particular understanding, a sense of ourselves as a society, that we hold almost sacred. Soldiering for profit was taken for granted for thousands of years, but the United States has thrived in an age when soldiering for the state -- serving your country -- has taken on an exalted status. We often question the reasons for making war, but we tend to revere the soldiers who are sent off to fight. We honor their sacrifice, we raise it up and in it we see the value of our society reflected back to us. In it we feel our special worth. We may not know what to think of ourselves if service and sacrifice are increasingly mixed with the wish for profit. We may know less and less how to feel about a state that is no longer defended by men and women we can perceive as pure. But that is an abstract and perhaps a distant worry. To wonder what will happen when the private work in Iraq finally winds down is a more concrete concern. What will happen to these companies, these men, without these thousands of jobs? Some will get contracts protecting U.S. departments and agencies around the world. Some will do the same for other governments. Doug Brooks, whose Washington industry organization, the International Peace Operations Association, represents several of the largest firms, says he believes the United Nations will soon hire the companies to guard refugee camps in war zones. But some of the firms and some of the men will no doubt be offered work by dictators or terrible insurgencies -- or by the kind of oil speculators who reportedly backed a recent mercenary-led coup plot in Equatorial Guinea (a plot involving former members of Executive Outcomes), in an attempt to install a ruler to facilitate their enterprise. And with so many newly created private soldiers unemployed when the market of Iraq finally crashes, aren't some of them likely to accept such jobs -- the work of mercenaries in the chaotic territories of the earth?"

What about in the U.S.? Bergner didn't get into it but one of the companies is providing patrols throughout Iraq and its arsenal ranges from M4 assault rifles to 20mm cannons mounted on its own helicopters. The company operates firing training ranges in the USA and actively recruits for what, to all intents and purposes, is now a private army. It is all perfectly legal. And, worse, some people think that creating chaos and mayhem in Iraq is part of the neo-con grand scheme. Let's face it, occupation forces use terrorism to 'fight terrorism' and only create more terrorists. We see this in both the Israeli and US occupations. It's not "an accident or an oversight of brilliant military strategists, but an intentional strategy used to maintain chaos and justify ongoing occupation. Occupation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, using 'security' to exploit, dominate, and colonize," wrote Joe Carr in his book, THE SELF-FULFILLING PROPHESY OF OCCUPATION.


At 2:21 PM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...


Two seperate stories, one about mercenaries in Iraq by Jonathan Finer in the Washington Post and one from Jeremy Scahill and Daniela Crespo in TRUTHOUT on mercenaries in New Orleans. This looks like it is developing into a real problem for the 21st Century. (Thanks again, George Bush, the worst thing that happened to America since like-minded rightists just like him started the Civil War.)

Sept 10, 2005
Washington Post

 Irbil, Iraq - The pop of a single rifle shot broke the relative calm of Ali Ismael's morning commute here in one of Iraq's safest cities.
    Ismael, his older brother Bayez and their driver had just pulled into traffic behind a convoy of four Chevrolet Suburbans, which police believe belonged to an American security contractor stationed nearby. The back door of the last vehicle swung open, the brothers said in interviews, and a man wearing sunglasses and a tan flak jacket leaned out and leveled his rifle.
    "I thought he was just trying to scare us, like they usually do, to keep us back. But then he fired," said Ismael, 20. His scalp was still marked by a bald patch and four-inch purple scar from a bullet that grazed his head and left him bleeding in the back seat of his Toyota Land Cruiser.
    "Everything is cloudy after that," he said.
    A U.S. investigation of the July 14 incident concluded that no American contractors were responsible, a finding disputed by the Ismaels, other witnesses, local politicians and the city's top security official, who termed it a coverup. No one has yet been held responsible.
    Recent shootings of Iraqi civilians, allegedly involving the legion of U.S., British and other foreign security contractors operating in the country, are drawing increasing concern from Iraqi officials and U.S. commanders who say they undermine relations between foreign military forces and Iraqi civilians.
    Private security companies pervade Iraq's dusty highways, their distinctive sport-utility vehicles packed with men waving rifles to clear traffic in their path. Theirs are among the most dangerous jobs in the country: escorting convoys, guarding dignitaries and protecting infrastructure from insurgent attacks. But their activities have drawn scrutiny both here and in Washington after allegations of indiscriminate shootings and other recklessness have given rise to charges of inadequate oversight.
    "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," said Brig. Gen. Karl R. Horst, deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, which is responsible for security in and around Baghdad. "They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place."
    No tally of such incidents has been made public, and Aegis, a British security company that helps manage contractors in Baghdad and maintains an operations center in the capital's fortified Green Zone, declined to answer questions. In the rare instances when police reports are filed, the U.S. military is often blamed for the actions of private companies, according to Adnan Asadi, the deputy interior minister responsible for overseeing security companies.
    "People always say the Army did it, and even our police don't always know the difference," he said.
    The shootings became so frequent in Baghdad this summer that Horst started keeping his own count in a white spiral notebook he uses to record daily events. Between May and July, he said, he tracked at least a dozen shootings of civilians by contractors, in which six Iraqis were killed and three wounded. The bloodiest case came on May 12 in the neighborhood of New Baghdad. A contractor opened fire on an approaching car, which then veered into a crowd. Two days after the incident, American soldiers patrolling the same block were attacked with a roadside bomb.
    On May 14, in another part of the city, private security guards working for the U.S. Embassy shot and killed at least one Iraqi civilian while transporting diplomats from the Green Zone, according to an embassy official who spoke on condition he not be named. Two security contractors were dismissed from their jobs over the incident.
    Employees of private security firms are immune from prosecution in Iraq, under an order adopted into law last year by Iraq's interim government. The most severe punishment that can be applied to them is revocation of their license and dismissal from their job, U.S. officials said. Their heavy presence stems in large part from the Pentagon's attempts to keep troop numbers down by privatizing jobs that would once have been performed by American forces.
    There are now at least 36 foreign security companies - most from the United States and Britain - and 16 Iraqi firms registered to operate here, according to the Interior Ministry, and as many as 50 more are believed to have set up shop illegally. Their total workforce is estimated at 25,000; many are military veterans, though levels of experience vary. As of December, contracts to provide security for U.S. government agencies and reconstruction firms in Iraq had surpassed $766 million, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.
    "As the security world rapidly expanded, I think some had to incorporate into their labor pool people with significantly less experience," said Harry Schute, who commanded an Army civil affairs battalion in northern Iraq from March 2003 until early 2004 and now serves as an adviser to the Kurdistan regional government, which has its capital in Irbil.
    Johann R. Jones, director of the Private Security Company Association of Iraq, a trade organization representing such companies, known as PSCs, disputed Horst's characterization of their performance in an e-mail response to written questions.
    "Whilst the behavior of a few PSCs is unhelpful, we have to also keep in mind that 'bad apples' are present in all organizations, including the MNF-I," wrote Jones, using the acronym for Multinational Forces-Iraq, the U.S.-led military coalition here. "There have been huge strides amongst the Iraqi government to regulate and maintain accountability regarding PSCs. There have also been huge strides within the PSC community to identify those that behave in an unacceptable manner."
    The U.S. Embassy official said that he was "extremely concerned" about shooting incidents involving private security companies but that the vast majority of security contractors were highly professional. Of 122 shootings by contractors protecting embassy officials since July 2004, only three have resulted in disciplinary actions, according to U.S. officials who monitor private security companies.
    "Look, we're in a war zone," the official said. "They are high targets. The insurgents know when they see SUVs rolling down the street. There are people trying to kill them all the time, and sometimes they have to respond."
    Security and other contractors working in Iraq have been frequent victims of violence. According to a Defense Department report to Congress last month, 166 contractors were killed and 1,005 wounded between May 1, 2003, and Oct. 28, 2004. The most publicized incident came on March 31, 2004, when four employees of Blackwater Security Consulting, a North Carolina-based company, were killed and their bodies dragged through the volatile western city of Fallujah.
    While many security companies perform military-style tasks, often on behalf of the U.S. government, they are not under the armed services' command. In response to a congressional request for more information on oversight of security contractors, the Pentagon said the military's relationship with them was "one of coordination, not control."
    Horst declined to provide the name of the contractors whose employees were involved in the 12 shootings he documented in the Baghdad area. But he left no doubt that he believed the May 12 incident, in which three people were killed, led directly to the attack on his soldiers that came days later on the same block.
    "Do you think that's an insurgent action? Hell no," Horst said. "That's someone paying us back because their people got killed. And we had absolutely nothing to do with it."
    Asadi, the Interior Ministry official, said Iraqi civilians nevertheless think private security guards are American soldiers. "They have the same bodies, the same looks," he said. "The only difference is the Humvees," vehicles used by the military but not by private firms.
    In May, Asadi sent a brief letter to registered security companies warning them to obey local laws or risk having their licenses revoked. "The cancellation will be circulated to all state offices, with the aim of shunning any dealing with you," he wrote. On May 27, after the shootings in Baghdad, Horst called a meeting with representatives of security firms and police officials at the U.S. Embassy.
    "We had a dialogue about propriety and conduct and consequences management," Horst said. "Our philosophy is 'make no new enemies,' and that's what I tried to impress upon these guys. They don't have to think about the consequences of what they do, but we do."
    The next day, the sometimes contentious relationship between security companies and the U.S. military burst into the open. Marines in the western province of Anbar detained 19 security contractors from another North Carolina-based outfit, Zapata Engineering, who allegedly shot at U.S. forces near Fallujah.
    Horst said his soldiers had had a run-in earlier that day with the same 19 workers. The contractors - 16 Americans and three Iraqis - were traveling west from Baghdad in a convoy of white Suburbans. As they passed the Abu Ghraib prison, whose perimeter is guarded by Horst's soldiers, they were shooting indiscriminately at the sides of the road, the general said.
    "They were doing what we call 'clearing by fire,' " Horst said. "They were shooting everything they see. They blow through here and they shot at our guys and they just kept going. No one was shooting back."
    The shooting of Ismael in Irbil came six weeks later. Police said the convoy of Suburbans quickly proceeded from the scene to a base operated by the U.S. Agency for International Development that is guarded by DynCorp International, an American firm.
    An investigation by U.S. officials concluded that "the evidence clearly indicates the vehicle was fired on from the rear by an as yet unknown party and not from the front by the" security company, according to a July 15 report filed with Kurdish security officials.
    The report offered "working theories" to explain the shooting, including the possibility that it resulted from an insurgent ambush in which the Ismaels' Land Cruiser was simply "in the wrong place at the wrong time," or an attempt to assassinate Bayez Ismael, a Kurdistan Democratic Party official.
    Abdullah Ali, director of the Irbil security police, called the U.S. report "three pages of lies to try to cover up that their company was involved."
    "We looked at all the evidence," he continued. "Witnesses only saw a shot from the front. And we found his hair and blood towards the back window, which supports that. We are 1 million percent sure."
    In an e-mail response to questions, DynCorp spokesman Gregory Lagana pointed to the embassy investigation. "We have confirmed that our people in the Irbil area did not leave their compound that day," he wrote.


and... closer to home:

September 10, 2005

New Orleans - Heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security firm, infamous for their work in Iraq, are openly patrolling the streets of New Orleans. Some of the mercenaries say they have been "deputized" by the Louisiana governor; indeed some are wearing gold Louisiana state law enforcement badges on their chests and Blackwater photo identification cards on their arms. They say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to use lethal force. Several mercenaries we spoke with said they had served in Iraq on the personal security details of the former head of the US occupation, L. Paul Bremer and the former US ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte.
    "This is a totally new thing to have guys like us working CONUS (Continental United States)," a heavily armed Blackwater mercenary told us as we stood on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. "We're much better equipped to deal with the situation in Iraq."
    Blackwater mercenaries are some of the most feared professional killers in the world and they are accustomed to operating without worry of legal consequences. Their presence on the streets of New Orleans should be a cause for serious concern for the remaining residents of the city and raises alarming questions about why the government would allow men trained to kill with impunity in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to operate here. Some of the men now patrolling the streets of New Orleans returned from Iraq as recently as 2 weeks ago.
    What is most disturbing is the claim of several Blackwater mercenaries we spoke with that they are here under contract from the federal and Louisiana state governments.
    Blackwater is one of the leading private "security" firms servicing the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It has several US government contracts and has provided security for many senior US diplomats, foreign dignitaries and corporations. The company rose to international prominence after 4 of its men were killed in Fallujah and two of their charred bodies were hung from a bridge in March 2004. Those killings sparked the massive US retaliation against the civilian population of Fallujah that resulted in scores of deaths and tens of thousands of refugees.
    As the threat of forced evictions now looms in New Orleans and the city confiscates even legally registered weapons from civilians, the private mercenaries of Blackwater patrol the streets openly wielding M-16s and other assault weapons. This despite Police Commissioner Eddie Compass' claim that "Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons."
    Officially, Blackwater says it forces are in New Orleans to "join the Hurricane Relief Effort." A statement on the company's website, dated September 1, advertises airlift services, security services and crowd control. The company, according to news reports, has since begun taking private contracts to guard hotels, businesses and other properties. But what has not been publicly acknowledged is the claim, made to us by 2 Blackwater mercenaries, that they are actually engaged in general law enforcement activities including "securing neighborhoods" and "confronting criminals."
    That raises a key question: under what authority are Blackwater's men operating? A spokesperson for the Homeland Security Department, Russ Knocke, told the Washington Post he knows of no federal plans to hire Blackwater or other private security. "We believe we've got the right mix of personnel in law enforcement for the federal government to meet the demands of public safety." he said.
    But in an hour-long conversation with several Blackwater mercenaries, we heard a different story. The men we spoke with said they are indeed on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and the Louisiana governor's office and that some of them are sleeping in camps organized by Homeland Security in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. One of them wore a gold Louisiana state law enforcement badge and said he had been "deputized" by the governor. They told us they not only had authority to make arrests but also to use lethal force. We encountered the Blackwater forces as we walked through the streets of the largely deserted French Quarter. We were talking with 2 New York Police officers when an unmarked car without license plates sped up next to us and stopped. Inside were 3 men, dressed in khaki uniforms, flak jackets and wielding automatic weapons. "Y'all know where the Blackwater guys are?" they asked. One of the police officers responded, "There are a bunch of them around here," and pointed down the road.
    "Blackwater?" we asked. "The guys who are in Iraq?"
    "Yeah," said the officer. "They're all over the place."
    A short while later, as we continued down Bourbon Street, we ran into the men from the car. They wore Blackwater ID badges on their arms.
    "When they told me New Orleans, I said, 'What country is that in?,'" said one of the Blackwater men. He was wearing his company ID around his neck in a carrying case with the phrase "Operation Iraqi Freedom" printed on it. After bragging about how he drives around Iraq in a "State Department issued level 5, explosion proof BMW," he said he was "just trying to get back to Kirkuk (in the north of Iraq) where the real action is." Later we overheard him on his cell phone complaining that Blackwater was only paying $350 a day plus per diem. That is much less than the men make serving in more dangerous conditions in Iraq. Two men we spoke with said they plan on returning to Iraq in October. But, as one mercenary said, they've been told they could be in New Orleans for up to 6 months. "This is a trend," he told us. "You're going to see a lot more guys like us in these situations."
    If Blackwater's reputation and record in Iraq are any indication of the kind of "services" the company offers, the people of New Orleans have much to fear.


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