The growing use of private armies not only subjects target populations to savage warfare but makes it easier for the White House to subvert domestic public opinion and wage wars.
Americans are less inclined to oppose a war that is being fought by hired foreign mercenaries, even when their own tax dollars are being squandered to fund it.
"The increasing use of contractors, private forces, or, as some would say, 'mercenaries' makes wars easier to begin and to fight---it just takes money and not the citizenry," said Michael Ratner, of New York's Center for Constitutional Rights. "To the extent a population is called upon to go to war, there is resistance, a necessary resistance to prevent wars of self-aggrandizement, foolish wars, and, in the case of the United States, hegemonic imperialist wars."
Indeed, the Pentagon learned the perils of the draft from the massive public protests it provoked during the Viet Nam war. Today, it would prefer, and is working toward, an electronic battlefield where the fighting is done by robots guided by sophisticated surveillance systems that will minimize U.S. casualties. Meanwhile, it tolerates the use of private contractors to help fight its battles.
Iraq offers a heart-breaking example of a war in which contract fighters so inflamed the public they were sent to "liberate" that when fighting broke out in Fallujah the bodies of privateer Blackwater's four slain mercenaries were desecrated by enraged mobs. This horrific scene was televised globally and prompted the U.S. to make a punishing, retaliatory military assault upon Fallujah, causing widespread death and destruction.
Just as the American colonists despised the mercenary Hessians in the Revolutionary War, Iraqis came to hate Blackwater and its kindred contractors worse than U.S. soldiers, who often showed them kindness, according to a journalist with experience in the war zone.
"It wasn't uncommon for an American soldier, or even an entire company, to develop a very friendly relationship with an Iraqi community. It didn't happen every day, but it wasn't unheard of," writes Ahmed Mansour, an Egyptian reporter and talk show host for Qatar-based al-Jazeera, the Middle East TV network.
"It was also definitely not uncommon to see American troops high-fiving Iraqi teenagers, holding the arm of an elderly woman to help her cross a street, or helping someone out of a difficult situation"This was not the case with mercenaries. They knew they were viewed as evil thugs, and they wanted to keep it that way."
In his book "Inside Fallujah"(Olive Branch Press), Mansour says, "Mercenaries were viewed as monsters, primarily because they behaved monstrously. They never spoke to anyone using words---they only used the language of fire, bullets, and absolute lethal force. It was fairly common to see a mercenary crush a small civilian Iraqi car with passengers inside just because the mercenaries happened to be stuck in a traffic jam."
Mansour, best known as host of the talk show "Without Limits," says his viewing audience was "outraged by the mere idea that a political superpower like the United States would hire mercenaries to do their unpleasant work instead of employing soldiers who believe in their country and its mission. Viewers were also obviously outraged over the horrendous war crimes committed by the mercenaries."
Blackwater was finally censured after its forces mowed down 17 civilians on Sept. 16, 2007, in what Iraqi officials said was an unprovoked assault in Baghdad's Nisour Square, after which they refused to renew its operating license. The Moyock, N.C.-based security outfit changed its name to Xe Services and, according to The Nation magazine, was still allowed to ink a $20 million renewal pact good through Sept. 3rd, to guard State Department officials. Part of its work, though, has been assumed by Triple Canopy, of Herndon, Va., a firm also with a blemished history.
Triple Canopy employs "private security guards (who) have allegedly targeted Iraqi civilians for sport, attempting to kill them, while doing work for Halliburton/KBR," claims Pratap Chatterjee in his book, "Halliburton's Army"(Nation Books). Speaking of mercenaries as a group, Brig. General Karl Hors, an advisor to the U.S. Joint Force Command, once observed, "These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There is no authority over them, so you can't come down on them when they escalate in force. They shoot people and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place."
On June 27, 2004, the day before L. Paul Bremer III, the administrator of the Coalition Provisional authority, left Baghdad, he issued Order 17 that barred the Iraqi government from prosecuting contractor crimes in domestic courts. Result: When the Iraq government probed Nisour Square, it reported "the murder of citizens in cold blood in the Nisour area by Blackwater is considered a terrorist action against civilians just like any other terrorist operation." As the Associated Press reported last April 1, "The company does not face any charges. But the Baghdad incident exacerbated the feelings of many Iraqis that private American security contractors have operated since 2003 with little regard for Iraqi law or life." Baghdad also charged Blackwater was involved in at least six deadly incidents in the year leading up to Nisour Square, including the death of Iraqi journalist Hana al-Ameedi.
By Spring, 2008, there were 180,000 mercenaries operating in Iraq. How many of them have been killed is not known. Their deaths do not appear on Pentagon casualty lists. Since many perform non-combat duties, it is not likely they have suffered as many deaths and wounds as GI's. By some estimates, perhaps 1,000 perished in Iraq, about one mercenary for every four GI's killed.
According to Mansour, an Iraqi group, Supporters of Truth, claims that low-flying U.S. helicopters dropped the bodies of slain mercenaries into the Diyala River near the Iranian border. Another group, the Islamic Army of Iraq, "uncovered mass graves for mercenaries who worked for the U.S. forces".He said uncovering mass graves of mercenaries had become common in Iraq"" Whether these were local mercenaries or imported fighters was not clear.
Many soldiers of fortune on private payrolls previously served dictators in South Africa, Chile, and elsewhere. "In Iraq, the private security firms that are the second-large component of the 'coalition of the willing' are dipping into experienced pools of trained fighters, almost 70 percent from El Salvador, it is estimated, Noam Chomsky writes in "Failed States"(Metropolitan/Owl). "The trained killers from the Reagan-run state terrorist apparatus can earn better pay pursuing their craft in Iraq than in what remains of their societies at home."
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