There’s been plenty written so far that calls the “subcontractors” who are acting as soldiers in Iraq what they really are: mercenaries. We use the term pejoratively for good reason. While our regular military forces are also in it for pay, they have accountability and loyalty to the United States military. Employees of contractors such as Blackwater are not accountable in the same way, and are loyal only to the money they’re paid. What keeps them with the U.S. is that it’s the only organization that can afford to pay them so much — money that might instead go to, say, health care for children, but for the Mercenary-in-Chief’s veto.
If you’re not sure about their lack of accountability, note this, from the first Times editorial:
Contractors have been in a legal limbo in Iraq since 2004, when the American authorities there granted them immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law. Some of the interrogators involved in the abuse of prisoners at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison were private contractors, yet none of them have been punished. Indeed, no private contractor has been prosecuted or convicted for any crime involving an Iraqi victim.Or this, from Ms Dowd’s column:
Mr. Prince was pressed by Representative Paul Hodes about the penalty paid by the Blackwater employee who, while drunk and off-duty at a Christmas party, killed the Iraqi guard. The man was fired. And he had to pay his own airfare home and forfeit his bonuses, amounting to a loss of about $14,697 — slightly less than the amount paid to the family of the Iraqi he blew away.The problem is that U.S. law prevents “civilian” military contractors from being prosecuted either by Iraq or by the military.
And when the State Department needs a report on a major incident where Blackwater mercenaries killed civilians, where do they get it from? Another branch of Blackwater, of course:
A source involved in diplomatic security at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said a Blackwater contractor, Darren Hanner, drafted the two-page “spot report” on the letterhead of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for the embassy’s Tactical Operations Center.Where else? [Hat tip to Nathaniel for the pointer.]
That office — which tracks and monitors all incidents and movements involving diplomatic security missions — has outsourced positions to Blackwater and another private firm, the embassy source said.
What scares me most about this, as one who grew up in the Vietnam era, is that I see the use of such contractors as insulation from incidents like My Lai. While little justice actually came from the courts martial after My Lai — Lt Calley was the only conviction, and he served just a token sentence — it was a lengthy, major scandal for the military and the Nixon administration.
How much more convenient it would have been if a “subcontractor” could have been blamed.
We shouldn’t be letting the Bush administration get away with that. What Blackwater has done should be treated as though it had been done by any other group of soldiers, responsible to the Commander-in-Chief of the United States military. George Bush was ultimately responsible for the abuse at Abu Ghraib. George Bush is ultimately responsible for the civilian deaths in Baghdad. He cannot hire his friends to insulate him from it.
The second Times editorial sums it up perfectly:
The fallout from Blackwater’s heavy-handed tactics is a reminder of the folly of using a private force to perform military missions in a war zone. These jobs need to be brought back into government hands as soon as practicable, and remaining private contractors placed under the jurisdiction of military law.
Update, 10 a.m.: Congress is trying to fix part of this:
With the armed security force Blackwater USA and other private contractors in Iraq facing tighter scrutiny, the House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would bring all United States government contractors in the Iraq war zone under the jurisdiction of American criminal law. The measure would require the F.B.I. to investigate any allegations of wrongdoing.That will help, but won’t, in itself, be enough. Of course, the bill passed “despite strong opposition from the White House.” Yeah, that’s no surprise.