Friday, July 28, 2006

Blackwater

Well, the conflict continues to rage at the listserv about the Lincoln Group, sigh. Reflecting on it, its fueled by the impatience and anger of the person who first posted the job. If she would just let people say their piece, the flames would die down. More on that later. [Please note that the first link is to Lincoln Group's corporate site, very illuminating for what they don't say.]

But it does highlight an on-going problem with the war and the administration's overall efforts: an over-reliance on private contractors who are inept, corrupt, unethical and/or incompetent. In some ways the Lincoln Group is simply inept and unethical. With little experience and few actual media or PR contacts they managed to receive (by way their connections to Republican fundraisers) high dollar contracts for work in Iraq. And then those political connections led them to plant false news stories in Iraqi newspapers not to shape the situation on the ground but to influence the political landscape back home.

Blackwater, a "security contractor" (which has never made sense to me, okay, you have to contract out for language and culture experts, but isn't security -- beefy guys with guns -- pretty much the core mission for the military?) with lots of high-dollar contracts seems to have played a key part in the failure of the Iraqi war.

Juan Cole led me to this story today.

On March 31, 2004, an American convoy was ambushed by insurgents in Fallujah, a hotbed of Iraqi rage over the U.S. presence. The four men escorting the convoy in two Mitsubishi SUVs were killed in a fusillade of small-arms fire. A furious mob set the vehicles ablaze, dragged the bodies out and partly dismembered them. Two were strung up from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

The entire episode was captured on film and aired worldwide.

The four dead Americans were not soldiers. They were civilians working for North Carolina-based Blackwater USA. The nation learned with a horrifying jolt that there was something new going on here: Modern warfare was being privatized.

[. . .]

In Iraq, it irrevocably altered the course of the war. U.S. Military commanders, who had no advance knowledge of the convoys presence in Fallujah, were ordered by Washington to change tactics and pound the city into submission, inflaming the Iraqi insurgency to new heights.

Yes, the military had no idea that Blackwater was coming and the contractors actually circumvented a Marine checkpoint outside the city. The families of the men (along with men killed on a flight operated by Blackwater in Afghanistan) are suing the company. The company however is arguing that it has become an integral part of the military, part of the President's powers, and deserves the same battlefield immunity from prosecution as the military.
Blackwater is arguing that although it is a private company, it has become an essential and indistinguishable cog in the military machine and, like the military, should be immune from liability for casualties in a war zone.

At stake, Blackwater says, is nothing less than the authority of the president, as commander in chief of the armed forces, to wage war as he sees fit.

The plaintiffs say it is all about corporate greed, unaccountability and a private army run amok.

The story (in the Virginia Pilot) deserves to be read in full.

On the second page you can vote in a poll with the question: Is it a good idea to deploy combat-ready private soldiers in a war zone? Right now, readers are split, 50% say yes, 46% no, the rest undecided. I wonder how the Marines who had responsibilityty for Fullujah and who had approached the Sunni stronghold in 2004 with a motto of "patient, persistent presence" would vote in the poll?

2 comments:

Eric said...

These mercenaries operate outside of military law and are infamous for shooting everything in sight. The fact that the U.S. government tolerate their presence in Iraq is baffling. Can you imagine what an American soldier feels like when he is doing, say, convoy security and the Blackwater mercenary in the vehicle behind him, doing the same job, is paid 5 times more than him?

Umm 'Skandar said...

Yes, the fact that the are not held to the Uniform Code of Military Justice is unbelievable, especially now that Blackwater wants immunity from lawsuits!

I can't imagine that there's much good feeling between the regular forces and the contractors, although most contractors have military connections