Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Blackwater - A Mercenary Force in Iraq

Fascinating piece in today's Guardian about the use of private security contractors in Iraq. The article particularly focuses on Blackwater, a firm central to the growing privatisation of the military. Here are a few extracts:

Iraqi officials have consistently complained about the conduct of Blackwater and other contractors - and the legal barriers to their attempts to investigate or prosecute alleged wrongdoing. Four years into the occupation, there is absolutely no effective system of oversight or accountability governing contractors and their operations. They have not been subjected to military justice, and only two cases have ever reached US civilian courts, under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which covers some contractors working abroad. (One man was charged with stabbing a fellow contractor, in a case that has yet to go to trial, while the other was sentenced to three years for possession of child-pornography images on his computer at Abu Ghraib prison.) No matter what their acts in Iraq, contractors cannot be prosecuted in Iraqi courts, thanks to US-imposed edicts dating back to Paul Bremer's post-invasion Coalition Provisional Authority........

At home in America, Blackwater is facing at least two wrongful-death lawsuits, one stemming from the mob killings of four of its men in Falluja in March 2004, the other for a Blackwater plane crash in Afghanistan in November 2004, in which a number of US soldiers were killed. In both cases, families of the deceased charge that Blackwater's negligence led to the deaths. (Blackwater has argued that it cannot be sued and should enjoy the same immunity as the US military).......

Moreover, this revolution means the US no longer needs to rely on its own citizens and those of its nation-state allies to staff its wars, nor does it need to implement a draft, which would have made the Iraq war politically untenable. Just as importantly, perhaps, it reduces the figure of "official" casualties. In Iraq alone, more than 900 US contractors have been killed, with another 13,000 wounded. The majority of these are not American citizens and these numbers are not counted in the official death toll at a time when Americans are increasingly disturbed by their losses......

In the case of Iraq, what is particularly frightening is that the US and UK governments could give the public the false impression that the occupation was being scaled down, while in reality it was simply being privatised. Indeed, shortly after Tony Blair announced that he wanted to withdraw 1,600 soldiers from Basra, reports emerged that the British government was considering sending in private security companies to "fill the gap left behind".......


The use of such mercenary forces clearly raises questions about human rights and conflicts with various international agreements. How can it be acceptable to have a mercenary army that is not answerable to the same regulations as the regular army? The regular army can barely control themselves at times, how can anyone expect these mercenaries to operate to equal standards?

As well as taking the time to read this article on a part of the occupation that we rarely hear about, it is also worth taking the time to watch this clip by The Nation's Jeremy Scahill: