Jan 27, 2008

September 18, 2007: Blackwater Down, Mercenaries on Main Street

Bassem Mroue, writing for the Associated Press reported today that the Iraqi government was revoking the license of Blackwater Security. The firm is accused of involvement in the deaths of 8 civilians and the injury of 13 others in a firefight following a car bomb explosion. Canceling their license, the Iraqi interior ministry has moved to reign in on Blackwater, threatening prosecution.

Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., has an 800 million dollar federal contract to operate in Iraq and is one of the most high-profile security firms in the country. Over 170 private security contractors and 190 thousand of what amounts to mercenary soldiers work in Iraq, protecting diplomats, foreign corporations and individuals. The coalition forces now employ 30,000 more mercenaries than there are American troops occupying the country. It was Blackwater, who sparked the battle of Fallujah when a mob of insurgents attacked, killed, burned then hung the bodies of Blackwater employees from a bridge. 27 United States Marines and an untold number of civilians were killed in the retaliation that followed. Many of these contractors have been accused of indiscriminately shooting at American and Iraqi troops as well as civilians who get too close to their convoys, killing countless Iraqi citizens and earning the well-deserved contempt of the Iraqi people. According to the Associated Press report, “Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani called the shootings ‘a crime that we cannot be silent about.’, and Iraq President Al-Maliki late Sunday condemned the shooting by a ‘foreign security company’ and called it a ‘crime’.” Unfortunately such things will be hard to prosecute because these mercenaries are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and are exempt from prosecution by the Iraqis under a special agreements forced on the Iraqis by the American-led occupying forces.

Al-Maliki is, of course, playing to a receptive audience for the country has grown weary of these hordes of armed mercenaries traveling about the country in heavily armored vehicles, brandishing and shooting automatic weapons from SUV’s and helicopter gunships and indiscriminately killing innocent bystanders. In an exercise in damage control the administration has launched an ‘investigation’ and sent Condolessa Rice to Baghdad to patch things up with the Iraqi’s. Ah the power behind a basic campaign contribution.

But this, unfortunately, is only half the scandal. It is not simply that we have created and licensed hordes of mercenaries to protect our ‘national interests’, it is that we are paying these soldiers of fortune about $160,000 a year for their efforts. Meanwhile the poor slob who joined the National Guard thinking that he would be at the ready the next time a category 5 hurricane bears down on New Orleans but instead finds himself a dessert rat is being paid a mere fraction of what his comrades at Blackwater are making. And both are paid by federal funds! The difference? The Guardsman is a soldier paid by the government. The Blackwater mercenary is also paid by the government but through Blackwater. Ah the benefits of privatization with public funds. One makes four or five times as much money and one is not subject to the Military Code of Justice and cannot be prosecuted if one should take a little target practice at a passing car or shoot at civilians standing in the street. This is where privatization leads. This is the Neo-Con wet dream turned national nightmare that is Iraq today. And not just Iraq, it was reported in passing on CNN’s coverage of the story today that Blackwater was in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.

This is yet another dimension of the Neo-Con nightmare that has only begun to blow back on the country. Privatize the schools, privatize the prisons, privatize law enforcement, and privatize the roads---just today a young enterprising Republican in the Georgia legislature proposed putting advertising on traffic signs. Yes privatize the military to the point where we now have mercenaries on Main Street.

This morning C-Span broadcast an appearance by Congressman John Murtha (D-Pa) before the National Press Club. Murtha has been one of those war veterans turned politician that have been a thorn in the side of ‘Chicken Hawks’. Visiting wounded soldiers returning from Iraq, Murtha became an early critic of the administration’s conduct of the war. Detailing the administration’s shortcomings: not adequately preparing the military for these levels of commitments, failure to send in enough troops to sufficiently occupy the country and prevent the emergence of an armed insurgency, failure to properly provide body armor and spare parts, failure to build a strong enough coalition and involve other countries in the region, failure to address the political dimensions of the conflict, and failure to put pressure on the Iraqi regime to negotiate a solution to the ethnic divide.

None of this is new. Murtha has been out front on this issue, first voicing concern in the halcyon days when dubya was declaring ‘mission accomplished’ and Rumsfeld was pooh-hooing any suggestion that a viable insurgency was in the making. So outraged were the ‘chicken-hawks’ that a Republican congresswoman from Ohio took to the floor of the House and announced that real marines don’t turn tail and run.

The problem with this kind of political criticism is that John Murtha is a real marine. He’s the kind of soldier that reminds one of John McCain, Max Cleland and John Kerry. Real warriors who went in harm’s way and engaged a real enemy under fire. But the Rescumlicans had achieved a measure of success savaging real heroes by innuendo, smear, and boldfaced lies. In the 2000 South Carolina Primary Karl Rove and his minions spread the rumor that the daughter John McCain and his wife had adopted from mother Teresa’s orphanage was his illegitimate daughter by an illicit interracial affair (See Al Franken “The Truth with Jokes). Nearing Election Day, Dubya’s forces created what is known in the business as a “push-poll”, ostensibly a public opinion poll conducted by a neutral party that in reality is a device to smear an opponent. In this case, voters were called and asked that if they knew John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child (she is from Bangladesh), would you still vote for him? Additionally the Bush forces conducted a whispering campaign to the effect that the years of torture while a guest at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ had scrambled poor John’s mind making him unstable. Not a good choice to control the finger on the nuclear button.

Max Cleland was another bona fide hero who got caught in the crosshairs of the Rescumlican slime machine. Losing three limbs in a land-mine explosion, Cleland a Viet Nam war vet had nonetheless so distinguished himself that he was put in charge of the Veteran’s Administration by President Carter and was later elected to the United States Senate. Knowing that the Republicans have no talent for administering much less creating large bureaucracies, he voiced deep suspicions about creating a Homeland Security Department charged with centralizing and coordinating intelligence and security agencies—especially if the new department did not incorporate the FBI or the CIA. Cleland, as prescient as he is courageous, knew that if unheeded Dubya would do nothing but create a politicized boondoggle. And so it has become. Nearly 5 years into the ‘world war’ and our ports, borders, nuclear power plants, chemical installations, railroads, and food supply are no more secure than they were before 911. But none of this mattered. What mattered was that Cleland had the temerity to not only represent Georgia in the Senate as a Democrat, but a Democrat openly voicing legitimate reservations. What to do? Answer: smear. So the Bush scum machine went about the business of sliming Max by putting his face next to that of Osama Bin Laden on television commercials with a voice over saying that Max was ‘soft on defense’ implying that he was giving aid and comfort to our enemies.

Then there is John Kerry. Another bona fide hero who actually saw battle, engaged the enemy and earned several citations including the Silver Star. Had he won election he may have become the only President of the United States to have actually killed anyone in battle. No matter, for by now the Rove slime machine had mastered the technique of smear. And they didn’t have to look far. Waiting in the weeds was Paul O’Neil, former adversary of Kerry dating back to the Vietnam era. O’Neil served as a shill for Charles Colsen when Nixon’s White House got him on the Dick Cavett show and otherwise promoted him to counter the growing influence of Kerry who Nixon feared would become another Kennedy. And so financing O’Neil’s ‘Swift-Boat Veteran’s for Truth” Karl Rove pulled the cables that released the slime that inundated the Kerry campaign introducing a new verb into the political lexicon: “Swift-boating”. As in ‘we need a candidate who won’t be ‘swift-boated’, meaning smeared.

They tried to do the same thing to Murtha. Perhaps because Murtha is only one of 435 members of the House and hadn’t gained enough national profile, or because he commands the unwavering respect of his constituents, they haven’t been able to savage Murtha as they have the others. So they chose to ignore him. In late 2003, Murtha wrote to Donald Rumsfeld his concerns about developments in Iraq and the resulting impact on the military. Murtha said today that it took a full seven months for the Department of Defense, in the form of the Undersecretary, to respond and then only to say that his concerns had been addressed.

Here was the ranking member of the House Armed Services committee charged with oversight of the Defense budget and Rumfeld demonstrates his contempt for the congress by taking seven months to respond to simple inquiry. If one cannot smear then one can simply dismiss. Such is the arrogance of power.
Now John is Chairman of the committee and a vocal critic of the war. He said in his speech today that a reporter asked Dubya why history would be kind to him on his conduct in Iraq. “ Because I’m right”, Murtha reported the president as saying. “Right about what?” asked Murtha. “Right about the weapons of mass destruction? Right about Al-Qaeda connections to Iraq? Right about the cost of the war? Right about our being welcome as liberators? Right about the insurgency?” Right-On John Murtha.

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