James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

This should scare you silly

I took a couple of weeks off from writing, and have returned with, and to, stacks of horrors, mostly oozing from the Bush White House, but some also creeping from the Minnesota State Capitol and other seats of power now under occupation by right wing extremists.

To begin, a little quiz:

What are Kroll, Inc., Custer Battles, Global Risks Strategies, Armor-Group and Blackwater USA?

The last name in that list may ring a bell with those who follow the news carefully. It was mentioned now and then, though not as frequently nor as prominently as it should have been, for a few days following March 31.

Was that enough of a hint?

Blackwater is the private army that employed the four men whose bodies were mutilated after they were killed in an ambush in Fallujah, Iraq, March 31.

It is impossible to find such treatment anything but horrifying. At the same time, it is unconscionable that all initial reports of the event described the four men merely as “civilians” and that most reporting agencies have continued to describe them in that way, with no real explanation of who they really were or what their jobs were.

Bluntly, they were mercenary soldiers, soldiers of fortune, hired guns. They were members of an army-for-hire of unknown size but probably numbering upward of 3,000 by now. There are tens of thousands of men under arms in such outfits around the world. There are several thousand in Iraq. They are not “security” people in the sense that most of us recognize the term. They are, for the most part, better equipped and better armed than the U.S. military. Their Humvees have full armor; that’s not always true of the vehicles our troops use (see the essay below).

Most of the hired guns are former military people, often former rangers, Navy Seals and such, who have received still more combat training at the private armies’ own facilities. Blackwater’s training facility in North Carolina is so well set up that Navy Seals and many police agencies regularly use it for training – for a price, of course. It trains on heavy weapons as well as light.

The mercenaries come from all over the world; the man who heads the unit to which the four men killed in Fallujah belonged is a Scot. Global Risks Strategies is a British-owned company that has troops from Fiji in Iraq. There is at least one South African company (guess at the backgrounds of those troops) also in Iraq.

All of the companies named above are operators of private armies, just five of what the New York Times says are “dozens, perhaps hundreds of private military concerns around the world.” The new “industry” got started soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when many countries started cutting their military forces and displaced pro soldiers went looking for work. It has grown like a deadly cancer since the invasion of Iraq. Various sources say that more than 15,000 guns-for-hire are working in Iraq, employed by as many as 24 private armies that have been hired by corporations and, yes, the U.S. government. The Fijians have been used to guard shipments of new Iraqi currency within the country and for other assignments.

The move to replace government troops with hirelings is frightening from several points of view.

There are several reasons the Bush White House may favor mercenaries over legitimate U.S. troops: For one thing, news coverage of the hired guns is almost nonexistent. There are no parents, spouses, siblings demanding news of their loved ones, or complaining about lack of proper equipment and the length of rotations in Iraq. No one is reporting on what the soldiers of fortune are doing, or how they’re doing it, and being private, they don't have to answer if anyone does ask them questions. Are they brutalizing Iraqi civilians? Who would know?

It is a fact that the Bushies work at a level of secrecy never before seen in our government; use of private armies allows them to maintain an unprecedented level of silence in some areas.

Probably equally important is the fact that the Bushies – all of the ultra-right mobs that now control our government, in fact – despise government bureaucracies. That hatred comes not from any inefficiencies among bureaucrats, as they would have you believe, but because the bureaucracy does not readily lend itself to soldiering on behalf of the right wing agenda. The people in the White House and the House of Representatives believe that every single piece and person in government should be dedicated to their program or should go. Civil servants can’t be counted on to fight for the extreme right, therefore the civil service should be destroyed. (That program is on paper.) The military, though more amenable to extremism than most other government agencies, is nevertheless beholden to some degree to Congress and the American people, and not just the Republican leadership.

Also, the use of private soldiers fits with the strategy of using Halliburton and other companies to provide services that in all previous wars, the American military provided for itself – and damned efficiently, thank you. Using private companies to do work the military used to do for itself costs us much more, of course, but it provides huge profits for Bushy-favored businesses as well as taking the activities beyond the vision of most oversight agencies and the press. We know that some of those profits move to Republican campaign coffers.

Speaking of costs: Several sources say the soldiers of fortune generally make upward of $100,000 a year, with many drawing much bigger paychecks. An untold number of them have been lured from our own military by the big money. We’re paying people big bucks to recruit our best-trained soldiers from our military. This is building the nation’s security? It’s cost effective how?

But here’s the piece that has cost me sleep of late: Private armies, mercenaries, owe no allegiance to anybody other than the paymaster. Whoever pays them commands them.

Match that thought with an assessment of people who hire themselves out to kill, which is what the mercenaries have agreed to do. They’re not, any longer, soldiers sworn to protect their people or their countries. They fight for money, for anybody who pays. Period.

I do not like the thought of people like G.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of that crew commanding thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of mercenary troops..