Thursday, May 10, 2007

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Training Iraqi soldiers in SWAT procedures didn't seem like mercenary work to Greg, who took a yearlong leave of absence from a Midwestern police department to spend a year in Baghdad as a contract employee with a private military corporation.
Sequestered at a guarded training camp near the airport, he and a team that grew from 15 to 45 American men -- mainly retired military personnel plus a few police officers and federal agents -- taught Iraqi security forces about forced entry into buildings through doors and windows, the use of weapons and close-quarter battle skills. They also guarded their own compound and searched suspected insurgent homes while regular U.S. military troops secured the city blocks where the raids took place.
The SUVs and other vehicles in Greg's unit were hit by gunfire at least a dozen times while traveling between their secured training site and Baghdad's Green Zone. Iraqis may have mistaken them for U.S. military or not cared that they weren't. Sometimes Greg's team would fire back.
Because they worked for a private company, Greg -- who spoke to Metro Times on the condition his real name not be used because of the confidentiality clause in his contract -- and his colleagues weren't counted in the official troop totals of military personnel in Iraq nor would their deaths, if they were killed, be reported by the American Forces Press Service as are those of the enlisted forces.
As a for-profit military contractor, Greg says he earned nearly five times his patrolman's pay, declining to give exact dollar figures. It was sometimes boring -- if he wasn't working, his choices were spending time on the Internet, watching DVDs or working out. Sometimes the work was dangerous.
"The United States is putting a lot of funding into training the Iraqis so they can secure their own country. It's not publicized a lot for whatever reason, but it is true that we are doing that," says Greg. "We want to develop a unit of the Iraqi military that can take care of their own problems internally."
Greg worked for a subsidiary of US Investigation Services Inc., known as USIS. Headquartered in Falls Church, Va., the parent company's Web site touts its "information and security services ... serving human resources, insurance, government agencies and National Security markets."
Like an unprecedented number of other private, for-profit companies, USIS has landed contracts to do support work for the U.S. military and other federal agencies and departments as part of the invasion, occupation, stabilizing and rebuilding in Iraq. Some, like USIS, do logistics, training and personal security detail.
Other private companies support the U.S. military in myriad ways: providing food service, purifying water, driving trucks to transport supplies, constructing housing and other buildings.
"When the American military goes to war today, contractors are the equivalent of an American Express card: The military can't go to war without them," says David Isenberg, a senior analyst with the British American Security Information Council, an independent, nonprofit group with offices in Washington, D.C., and London.
Some private security contractors -- companies like Blackwater USA, DynCorp International and Armor Group -- are protecting diplomats and staff of federal agencies including the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East. Considered by some to be efficient, economical providers of mainly noncombat services and by others to be for-hire, mercenary forces with little accountability, private military corporations currently number as many as 177 in Iraq, according to the Private Security Company Association of Iraq.
It's the contractors who act as de facto security forces that are drawing an increasing amount of criticism and questions. They work for the U.S. government as well as, for example, construction companies that need to provide protection for employees. They wear military-like clothing. They carry weapons. They fire back -- and sometimes first -- at Iraqis. But they are not U.S. military troops.
The trend represents a fundamental change in how America goes to war. Frontline troops from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are still expected to engage in combat. But many authors, analysts, journalists and lawmakers are asking questions about the role of and rules for non-governmental security forces. "Most Americans believe there are about 145,000 troops on the ground in Iraq," says Jeremy Scahill, a journalist who has written a book about private military contractors. "Seldom mentioned in that equation is the fact that there are about 130,000 private contractors." A Capitol Hill source says he's seen Department of Defense unofficial totals of 126,000 contracted employees in Iraq, about 21,500 of whom are American. An unknown number of employees work on contracts through other governmental agencies.

The above, noted by Brenda, is from Sandra Svoboda's "Soldiers of fortune: Private military corps in Iraq raise questions, stakes" (MetroTimes). MetroTimes also offers "Blackwater: One Man's private army" which is an excerpt from Jeremy Scahill's Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. And Kat wrote about Jeremy Scahill yesterday.

Turning to news of war resistance, Mark St. Clair's "After jail stint, deserter Aguayo returning to L.A." (Stars and Stripes) details the latest on Agustin Aguayo who is scheduled to finally be returning to Los Angeles after being released from prison April 18th but not released from military custody -- a bit strange that they can discharge you but still keep you in custody:

Scheduled to leave from Frankfurt International Airport on Thursday morning, Aguayo will make his way to the Los Angeles area, where his family resides, according to an e-mail from the Military Counseling Network. Aguayo previously had sought help from the agency to obtain a conscientious objector discharge from the Army.
"The last time he was at Frankfurt International, he was in handcuffs and [an old uniform], and huge [military policemen] were escorting him around. I don't think we'll have quite the same visual this time around," the agency's Michael J. Sharp stated in an e-mail.
According to its Web site, the "MCN is a non-military network of organizations prepared to provide free counseling service to those soldiers who are questioning going to war or want to know more about military discharges and regulations."
He originally filed for conscientious objector status two days before he was scheduled to leave on his first deployment in 2004.

This may mean he will not be at the Sacremento event tonight (though he and Helga Aguayo, his wife, may surprise) at 7:00pm, Newman Center, 5900 Newman Court, Sacramento. But he will now be able to take part in the speaking out tour with Camilo Mejia, Pablo Paredes, Robert Zabala and others.

Meanwhile, our modern day Betty Grable continues to report from Camp Pendleton and files this "Marine Testifies to Urinating on Body" (New York Times). Sanick Dela Cruz was offered immunity to testify about the murders in Haditha. You have to wonder about Paul von Zielbauer's mentality (and the headline writers) that he emphasizes (in his opening sentence) the urination over five Iraqis being murdered. No question, the urination is offensive and criminal (it truly is criminal) but Dela Cruz also testified that Frank Wuterich shot "five unarmed Iraqis" who had their hands in the air. Dela Cruz testified, "I watched him shooting, sir, at the Iraqis. . . . They were dead."

Sergeant Dela Cruz said that Staff Sergeant Wuterich had told the squad, “If anybody asks, they were running away, and the Iraqi Army shot them.” Staff Sergeant Wuterich’s lawyers have said he fired on the five civilians after they ran from the car and defied his order to stop.

Dela Cruz also testified to shooting them after Wuterich did (saying he wanted to make sure they were dead) and, afterwards, urinating on the head of one. This is from Marty Graham's
"Marine urinated on dead Iraqi" (Australia's Courier-Mail):

Sen-Sgt Dela Cruz said he had earlier he watched squad leader Sergeant Frank Wuterich shoot five men whose hands were up near a car, then admitted to shooting them as they lay on the ground.
Sgt Wuterich "walked to me and told me that if anybody asked, they were running away and the Iraqi Army shot them," testified Sen-Sgt Dela Cruz.
Three Marines have been charged with murder, and four officers have been charged with dereliction of duty and obstructing the investigation.

[. . .]
Today's hearing focused on Captain Randy Stone, who served as the legal adviser for the Kilo Company.
Capt Stone, 34, is charged with violating an order and two counts of dereliction of duty in connection with the killings.

We'll again note that Paul von Zielbauer remains unable to get the charges against Randy Stone correct. Finally, Martha notes Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman's "Bush Told War Is Harming The GOP" (Washington Post):

House Republican moderates, in a remarkably blunt White House meeting, warned President Bush this week that his pursuit of the war in Iraq is risking the future of the Republican Party and that he cannot count on GOP support for many more months.
The meeting, which ran for an hour and a half Tuesday afternoon, was disclosed by participants yesterday as the House prepared to vote this evening on a spending bill that could cut funding for the Iraq war as early as July. GOP moderates told Bush they would stay united against the latest effort by House Democrats to end
U.S. involvement in the war. Even Senate Democrats called the House measure unrealistic.

Finally discovered, a casuality Bully Boy may have to worry about. Possibly the moderates should have used the opportunity to ask, "What noble cause" did their electoral chances die for? If they didn't ask that Tuesday, they better be prepared for him to brush them off now as he did Cindy Sheehan. (It should be noted, Sheehan suffered a real loss and didn't contribute to it by voting in favor of Bully Boy's illegal war -- moderates did vote in favor of it -- repeatedly.) The e-mail address for this site is