JEREMY SCAHILL: At a time when the administration seems unwilling to subject its war strategy to oversight by the Congress, we face the widespread use of private forces seemingly accountable to no effective system of oversight or law. While tens of thousands of these contractors provide logistical support services for the military, thousands are heavily armed private soldiers roaming Iraq. We do know that there are 48,000 employees of private military companies in Iraq alone. These forces work for US companies like Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp, as well as companies from across the globe. Some contractors make in a month what many active-duty soldiers make in a year. Indeed, there are private contractors in Iraq who make more money than the Secretary of Defense or the commanding generals.
The testimony about private contractors that I hear most often from active-duty soldiers falls into two categories: resentment and envy. They ask what message their country is sending them. While many soldiers lack basic protective equipment, facts well-known to this committee, they're in a war zone where they see the private soldiers. They whiz by in better vehicles, better armor, better weapons, wearing the corporate logo instead of the American flag, and pulling in much more money. They ask, "Are our lives worth less?" Of course, there are many cases where contractors have horded the profits at the top, and money is not filtered down to the contractors on the ground or armor to protect them, and we can discuss that later.
The second reaction I hear from active-duty soldiers is that they see what they refer to as these rock star private contractors, and they want to be like them. So we have a phenomenon of soldiers leaving the active-duty military to jump over to the private sector. There’s now slang on the ground in Iraq for this jump; it's called "going Blackwater." To put it bluntly, these private forces create a system where national duty is outbid by profits, and yet these forces are being used for mission-critical activities. Indeed, in January, General David Petraeus admitted that on his last tour in Iraq he himself was protected by private contract security. Just as there's a double standard in pay, there's a double standard in the application of the law. Soldiers who commit crimes or acts of misconduct are prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. There have been some sixty-four courts-martial on murder-related charges alone in Iraq. Compare that to the lack of prosecution of contractors. Despite the fact that tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of contractors have gone in and out of Iraq since March of 2003, only two have faced any criminal prosecution. Two. One was a KBR employee alleged to have stabbed a coworker in a kitchen. The other pled guilty to possession of child pornography images on his computer at Abu Ghraib prison. In four years, there have been no prosecutions for crimes against Iraqis committed by contractors and not a single known prosecution of an armed contractor. That either means that we have tens of thousands of boy scouts working as armed contractors or something is fundamentally wrong with the system.
Brigadier General Karl Horst of the First Infanty Division became so outraged by contractor unaccountability that he began tracking contractor violence in Baghdad. In just two months, General Horst documented twelve cases of contractors shooting at civilians that resulted in six deaths and three injuries, and that's just two months and one general. They have not been prosecuted under the UCMJ. They have not been prosecuted under US civilian law. They have not been prosecuted under Iraqi law. US contractors in Iraq reportedly have their own motto: "what happens here today stays here today." That should be chilling to everyone who believes that warfare, above all government functions, must be subject to transparency, accountability and the rule of law.
These are forces operating in the name of the United States of America. Iraqis do not see contractors as separate from soldiers. Understandably, they see them all as the occupation. Contractor misconduct is viewed as American misconduct.
While there's currently a debate in this congress about how to hold these private forces accountable, the political will to act remains shockingly absent. Given the vast size of this private force spread across the most dangerous war zone in the world, it is not at all clear how effective oversight would work. We already know that auditors cannot visit many reconstruction sites because of security concerns. Journalists are locked in the Green Zone. The Army is stretched to the max. So what entity then is supposed to have the capacity or the ability to oversee the men who have been brought to Iraq to go where no one else will?
Members of Congress tell me they've been stonewalled in attempts to gain detailed information about the activities of these private contractors. I think it's a disturbing commentary that I’ve received phone calls from members of Congress asking me for documents on the contractors, and not the other way around. In the current discussion in the Congress on this issue, what is seldom discussed is how this system, the privatization of war, has both encouraged and enabled the growth and creation of companies who have benefited and stand to gain even more from an escalation of the war.
In closing, while I think this congress needs to take urgent action on issues of oversight, accountability and transparency of these private forces operating with our tax dollars and in the name of the United States, there's a deeper issue that often gets overlooked. This war contracting system has intimately linked corporate profits to an escalation of war and conflict. These companies have no incentive to decrease their footprint in the war zone and every incentive to increase it. As the country debates current and future Iraq policy, Congress owes it to the American people to take down the curtain of secrecy surrounding these shadow forces that often act in the name and on the payroll of the people of this country.
The above is from Jeremy Scahill's Congressional testimony two Thursdays prior and you can read, listen or watch it in full via "Author and DN! Correspondent Jeremy Scahill Testifies in Landmark House Hearing on Defense Contracting" (Democracy Now!). We're opening with it due to today's New York Times. And let's note a few things upfront. Contractors choose to go to Iraq. (Some from countries other than the US are kept there by employers confiscating passports.) This community doesn't support contractors. If someone's kidnapped, we will sometimes note and follow that, otherwise, we're not generally interested. They are present to make a buck -- and that may go to the own disasters of their home economies (including the US) but it's an illegal war and they're choosing to go there. Unlike the military, they're not ordered to go. Like the US State Department (whose employees are balking), contractors have a choice. Not all are paid well but many are. (Generally, the more of a mercenary you are, the higher your pay.) The Bully Boy has outsourced the military.
That's been a disaster. It's enriched many private companies, but it's been a disaster. To focus on the issue of food, it's put US service members at risk because the companies have focused on the cheapest way to prepare and serve meals which has led to a larger concentration in 'mess halls' which has led to more deadly attacks than if the military was running them as they have in the past. Convoys require protection by US service members who generally make a great deal less than the private citizens they are being ordered to protect.
Contractors operate in a law-free zone. Unlike US service members, they face no legal jeopardies for any violations of the law. That's the system that's been created in Iraq. Myself, I have heard to many horror stories from friends who have served in and are serving in Iraq to work up a pity party for contractors. That the US military risks their lives for some companies profit motive is hardly new to this illegal war but generally the US military was sent into conflict to preserve the profits of a company already operating in the region. With the Bully Boy, conflict regions are a bull market full of opportunities for money grubbers willing to get in on the ground floor due to the fact that the military's own role has been outsourced repeatedly. So now the US military spends a large portion of their time in Iraq acting as security guards for big business.
The illegal war never had a 'win' (around any corner) but it is surprising as the acceptable lines of criticism (floated throughout the mainstream) have emerged that the War Cheerleaders, in their last gasps, haven't raised the very real issue of private contractors. You'd expect at least one of them to make the argument: "If the military hadn't been used to protect contractors, imagine how far along we could be in this war!"
The New York Times was saved by big business when it was about to go under and that goes a long way to explaining the paper's last 100 years. So today, on the front page, court merkins John M. Broder and James Risen serve up "Death Toll for Contractors Reaches New High in Iraq." A lengthy little article that avoids as many realities as possibile. From January through March, the article tells you, 146 contractors have died. (The total for contractor deaths is 917.)
The paper asserts that these are "largely hidden casualties of the war" -- excuse the hell out of me, but the largely hidden casualties remain the Iraqis. Followed closely by US service members or maybe we're all supposed to forget the fact that 4 US soldiers died last *Saturday* and 3 went missing but the New York Times didn't consider that front page news. The 3 missing finally made the front page yesterday. "Private army" gets a mention (that's mercenearies) once on the front page. (Yes, they front paged this. 4 US soldiers killed last Saturday wasn't front page news.)
Inside the paper, A6, the useless Broder and Risen, who want to offer the non "hidden casualities of the war," can't even get the death toll for US service members correct writing: "American military casualties in Iraq have mounted to almost 3,400 dead" -- no, that was Thursday. And the AP and Retuers count reflects that 3400 marker was passed on Thursday.
The current count is 3415 and the two assholes want to tell you that it's "almost 3,400 dead" while maintaining we should all be shedding tears for the "hidden casualities". (Reuters count on Friday was 3406.)
In a week of garbage served up by the Times, this article is top of the heap. No noting that contractors shoot at Iraqis, that if they kill Iraqis -- unarmed, innocent civilians -- they face no legal consquences. It's just a pity-fest for money grubbers and ones wanting to make a quick buck. Guess what, it's a war zone. If you go in by choice (out of a lust for currency), you get what happens in a war zone. Party pity of two attempts to tell us that convoys are shot out but fails to tell you that so are US service members assigned to escorting the convoys.
There's a jerk who always felt the need to e-mail and state what I 'need' to write about. He'd always stress the poor contractors in e-mail after e-mail. He was informed I didn't care about the contractors. I don't. Merceneries and money grubbers aren't my concern. He cries rivers of tears for them at his site (which strangely never notes the injured and killed soldiers of his own country -- which isn't the US). It's sad that the economies in so many countries (including the US) is so horrible that some feel this is their best opportunity to make money, but it's a choice. The Jerk Off Boys of the Times offer "patriotism" as one reason. If they're patriotic and going because they believe in the illegal war, guess what -- there are recruitment centers across the United States. March your butt in there and sign up if you're gung ho on the illegal war. You won't have the shot at riches but let's not sell this lie that it's about "patriotism." It is insulting to everyone who actually signed up for service.
The same paper that didn't cover Scahill's testimony also fails to mention Blackwater in their entire article. Iraqi civilians, journalists (even bad ones), charity and aid workers, service members ordered into the illegal war all have my sympathies. People lured into an illegal war with the promise of 'riches' don't.
Reporters who can't even get the figure right on how many US service members have died (the Times regularly references the AP and ICCC count in other articles), who want to play at our heart strings over the deaths of private contractors should be taken to the woodshed. That the paper who cannot mention Abeer's name (even in an op-ed this week!) wants to talk about invisible victims is a huge laugh. A huge, cheap, dirty laugh. The article's nothing but damage control. An attempt to put a shiny, tear streaked face on the likes of the (unnamed) Blackwater. Peddle that sh*t elsewhere.
Elsewhere in the paper, David S. Cloud files a report from Baghdad. Or that's what the paper wants readers to believe. Wasn't it just last weekend that Cloud was filing DC? (Yes, it was: "WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is looking into complaints that Defense Department officials charged with building public support for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan might have engaged in improper fundraising and unauthorized spending, officials said Friday." A10, last Saturday's paper.) Would the Times fudge a dateline? Didn't they already when, under pressure from the White House, they disappeared a hard hitting story online -- with a Baghdad dateline -- (that was already front page on the print edition) with a piece of sop re-write rewritten by someone in NYC.
Gina (of the gina & krista round-robin) was the first this week to note Margaret Kimberley's "Should We Want a Black President?" (Freedom Rider, Black Agenda Report):
When Colin Powell considered running for president, the question on everyone's mind was whether or not he could win. In other words, would white people who said they liked him really vote for him? Powell eventually decided to shoot for a high profile gig with the next Republican administration, and the question remained unanswered.
Unlike Powell, Senator Barack Obama has entered a presidential race. He is the candidate with all the buzz, and he has raised a ton of money. Hillary Clinton thought that being the boss's wife would be enough to waltz into the nomination. All she had to do was bask in the Clintonian after-glow and presto, instant oval office residency.
Sadly for her, she shares her husband's politics of meaninglessness but none of his personal charisma. She can't get away with fence straddling, triangulating, or insulting the party base. Along comes Obama, a living reincarnation of Clintonian political charm straight from the glory days. Now that Hillary has been out Clintoned, she looks less like a sure thing.
Obama has mastered the art of political bullsh*tology, and proven campaign fund-raising prowess. He does look like a contender. The likelihood of white people voting for him is still open to question, but that may not be the most important question. Black Americans will again support the Democratic nominee, but is Obama more worthy of that loyalty than any other Democrat?
If he is a winner, it will be in large part because he is willing to throw black people under the bus. He proved as much in his overrated speech at the 2004 Democratic national convention. "There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America - there's the United States of America." Of course there is a black America, and most of us don't want to pretend otherwise.
Obama's 2004 speech does not mention racism, not even to say something bland such as, racism is bad. Obama sells color blindness in a country that is all about the color spectrum. It makes no sense for black America to embrace this obvious canard. Will we purchase a lemon if the seller looks like us?
When Obama says that the best way to end poverty is to keep teenage girls from having babies, he is insulting us all. If he wants to channel Bill Cosby he must know that it comes with a price. Our support is not his birthright. If he can't bring himself to talk about the loss of high paying union jobs and the deliberate destruction of black public schools, he must know that he can't expect unqualified support.
Noting Patricia J. Williams ridiculous claims (and ridiculous appearence) on a radio program (KPFA's The Morning Show, February 23rd), Gina wishes someone could "make the 'informed' law porfessor aware of Margaret Kimberley who is not a Fox 'News' gasbag since the professor is under the mistaken belief that only Republicans are raising this issue."
Turning to RadioNation with Laura Flanders:
On this last weekend of RadioNation, live, on the weekends, we talk again with some the inspiring people we've met over the past three years. On Saturday, Paul Sullivan of Veterans for Common Sense, on the biggest friendly fire incident in U.S. military history - in Gulf War I. Then, the latest BLUE GRIT victories in Montana and Pittsburgh. And RENO returns in our last hour, along with some of our favorite musical moments.
On Sunday, we hear about Hillary Inc from the Nation's Ari Berman. Then what's now and what's next for New Orleans, with among others, the Common Ground Collective, Diane Shamis, of Progressive Democrats of America and author and musical historian Ned Sublette. JOIN US. And if you haven't done it yet, sign up to join our email list so we can stay in touch with you henceforth.
AND Don't miss Laura in the book Salon, this Sunday (5/20) 1 PM ET at firedoglake.com.
The book is Blue Grit. Rushing this time last week, I wrongly called True Grit. Blue Grit's a wonderful book and you can read "1 Book, 5 Minutes" for our discussion of the book. This weekend, RadioNation with Laura Flanders airs Saturdays and Sundays on radio stations that carry Air America programming, on XM satellite radio and online -- from 7:00 to 10:00 pm EST. Next week, it moves to Sunday only, starting at 1:00 pm (EST) in another sign that Air America still doesn't have a clue on how to increase ratings or retain a loyal audience. (Lionel! has resulted in a record number of phone calls and angry e-mails which are wrongly seen as "people are listening!" No, the program is not called "Lionel!" -- there is no exclamation point but it's the sort of psuedo outraged gas baggery that should come with one). To sign up for the e-mail list (as Martha and many others have) visit RadioNation with Laura Flanders and sign up. There's no charge.
The following community sites have updated since yesterday morning:
Rebecca's Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude;
Cedric's Cedric's Big Mix;
Kat's Kat's Korner;
Betty's Thomas Friedman is a Great Man;
Mike's Mikey Likes It!;
Elaine's Like Maria Said Paz;
Wally's The Daily Jot;
and Trina's Trina's Kitchen
* Betty's typing her latest chapter up right now and this may beat her latest chapter in posting.
Lloyd notes Robin Wright's "Iraqi Shiite Party Leader Now in U.S. for Lung-Cancer Treatment" (Washington Post):
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the largest and most powerful Shiite party in Iraq, is in the United States for urgent medical attention, according to U.S. officials and his organization.
His party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, refused to discuss Hakim's diagnosis, but U.S. officials said the cleric, 57, has been found to have lung cancer and is in the United States for further tests and to develop a treatment plan.
Martha notes this from John Ward Anderson's "5 U.S. Troops, 2 Journalists Die in Iraq" (Washington Post):
Five U.S. soldiers were killed and nine wounded in separate attacks in Baghdad and the restive province of Diyala northeast of the capital, the U.S. military said Friday, and ABC News reported that two Iraqi journalists working for the network's Baghdad bureau were killed by gunmen while on their way home from work Thursday night.
A statement by ABC News President David Westin identified the journalists as cameraman Alaa Uldeen Aziz, 33, and soundman Saif Laith Yousuf, 26.
From the same article, I'll note that 21 corpses were discovered in Khalis -- add that to yesterday's other reported corpse discoveries ("Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reports five corpses discovered in the Babil province. Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 25 corpses were discovered in Baghdad and 15 corpses in Baquba.") and you have at least 66 corpses reported discovered on Friday throughout Iraq.
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[C.I. note: *Saturday* replaces Friday. I was wrong and tired. Thank you to Brady for catching that.]