Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Put 'em up!

This, boys and girls, is the international symbol for Blackwater mercenaries ahead. It is also the new greeting for anyone meeting anybody from the US State Department in Iraq. There is an article on the NYT website with some new information about Blackwater. It turns out that the Blackwater contractors might be just a wee bit trigger happy:

The officials said that Blackwater’s incident rate was at least twice that recorded by employees of DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, the two other United States-based security firms that have been contracted by the State Department to provide security for diplomats and other senior civilians in Iraq.

The Iraqis, and some US officials, seem to think so:

Many American officials now share the view that Blackwater’s behavior is increasingly stoking resentment among Iraqis and is proving counterproductive to American efforts to gain support for its military efforts in Iraq.

And it is interesting to Spot that most of Blackwater's contractors are just that, independent contractors, not even employees of Blackwater:

Blackwater was founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, a former member of the Navy Seals, and is privately owned. Most of its nearly 1,000 people in Iraq are independent contractors, rather than employees of the company, according to a spokeswoman, Anne Tyrrell. Blackwater has a total of about 550 full-time employees, the she said.

True soldiers of fortune, bound neither by military control or even the control of an employer to the mission or interests of the United States in Iraq.

This is really stupid, boys and girls.

Spot wants to call to your attention a couple of good blog posts about mercenaries. The first is by Paul Finkelman at Balkinization:

“He is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation.”

The was the complaint, leveled against George, the ruler of a great nation, who sent hired guns to suppress the people of an emerging nation on the other side of the ocean.

The complaint, of course, was against King George the Third, and was written by Thomas Jefferson. It is in the Declaration of Independence. Yet, in all sorts of ironic ways, Jefferson’s complaint might easily be uttered by Iraqis and Americans who sympathize with their plight.

Here's what Finkelman said about mercenary activities in Iraq:

These guards are heavily armed and appear to have no external authority over them. Their job, loosely defined, is to protect Americans and other westerners in Iraq. They do so with helicopters, armored cars, and serious amounts of firepower. According to the Times, they bully their way through the streets of Baghdad and other cities, and apparently drive as fast as 120 miles an hour in convoys on the way to the airport. They have killed scores of Iraqis, and frightened even westerners with their cowboy on helicopter tactics.

Blackwater and the other contractors have in effect created private armies or mercenaries. Congress has ordered that the Blackwater mercenaries and other private armies be placed under the same rules of engagement as the United States military. But, according to the Times, “no action has been taken, leaving the contractors in a legal no-man’s land – in effect, at liberty to treat all Iraq as a free-fire zone.” (NY Times, Sept. 23, Week-in-Review, p. 3). In practice there is no one controlling them and no one authority from whom they take orders. They are hired guns, who it appears, are accountable to no one, unless, or until, they are indicted for criminal activity. However, as the N.Y. Times noted (Sept. 23, 2007, Sec. 1; p. 14) “Even if murder charges [against Blackwater employees] were referred to Iraqi courts, it is unclear what real legal peril would be faced by Blackwater or any of its employees.” This is because in 2004, the chief U.S. civilian in Iraq, L. Paul Brenner, III issued Order 17, which, as the Times writes, give “security companies working for the United States government immunity from prosecution” in Iraq.

Iraq is surely a dangerous place. Over one hundred private contractors have been killed there. Blackwater, and other companies, guard these civilian contractors. They are the new mercenaries. They wear no national uniform; they are not really subject to traditional military discipline. And, like all mercenaries, they have no patriotic interest in the outcome of conflict. They have only three goals. They want to survive; they want to protect those they are assigned to protect; and they want to get paid a lot of money. If someone else offers them more money, they might quit the job they now have, and move to a new employer. They would not be “defecting” to the enemy, because they are not soldiers.

The dangers of using a private army are clear. Employees of various companies, including Blackwater, USA, have been charged to senseless killings, reckless killings, and just plain cold blooded killings. I hesitate to say they have participated in murders, because “murder” implies a legal regime where murder is a crime. These mercenaries seem to above the law. [italics are Spot's]

Blackwater is made up of modern-day Hessians.

The second post is by Evil Bobby, who quotes what Machiavelli believed about mercenaries:

I say, therefore, that the arms with which a prince defends his state are either his own, or they are mercenaries, auxiliaries, or mixed. Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you.

Mercenaries are beyond practical control. Why do we use them? Beyond the administration's mania for privatizing everything, there is this from the NYT article linked above:

Despite the growing criticism of Blackwater and its tactics, the company still enjoys an unusually close relationship with the Bush administration, and with the State Department and Pentagon in particular. It has received government contracts worth more than $1 billion since 2002, with most coming under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, according to the independent budget monitoring group OMB Watch.

. . .

The company’s close ties to the Bush administration have raised questions about the political clout of Mr. Prince, Blackwater’s founder and owner. He is the scion of a wealthy Michigan family that is active in Republican politics. He and the family have given more than $325,000 in political donations over the past 10 years, the vast majority to Republican candidates and party committees, according to federal campaign finance reports.

Blackwater is just another chapter in the sorriest foreign policy expedition upon which the US has ever embarked.

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