James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Who hired the hired guns in New Orleans?

We’re used to reading about "war lords" in Somalia and Afghanistan and other lawless regions of the world, places where many starve and the people with the most and biggest guns rule over wastelands in which human beings count for much less than cattle and where smashing children’s skulls and raping women are treated almost as sport.

Novels, movies and, periodically, news reports often tell tales of mercenary troops – rigorously trained killers-for-hire who will go anywhere and destroy anybody if the price is right.

Those stories seem hardly more than science fiction tales to most Americans, I suspect. Certainly, they have little or nothing to do with the United States of America.

Except that they do.

Although the corporate press and major broadcast and cable networks have, for reasons beyond any acceptable explanation, ignored the fact, some of the same highly-paid civilian killers who have been operating in Iraq since the Bush crowd launched their very profitable war now are operating in New Orleans, and possibly other areas wounded by Hurricane Katrina.

No, that’s not some left-wing fantasy, as I will show in a bit.

The basic situation, all reports agree, is this: Several hundred members of at least three private armies – mercenaries – are on the streets of New Orleans and nearby towns. They are armed. According to some reports, they were toting automatic weapons and perhaps some heavier stuff when they first arrived somewhere around the first week of September, but now most are carrying only handguns – though we’re not talking .22 target pistols.

Only one such outfit has been named in any of the reports I’ve seen. That is Blackwater USA, which probably is the biggest of the mercenary armies involved with the U.S. government and U.S. corporations. Blackwater is based in and has a 6,000-acre training camp in North Carolina. It appears to have a full-time staff of about 330 people and about 5,000 "private contractors" – that is, gunsels available for hire. Almost since the U.S. invaded Iraq, Blackwater troops have been in that country doing jobs that generally are not made public.

Like all of the private armies, Blackwater’s people come from all over, but are heavy on Israelis and former members of extra-tough American military outfits such as the Army Special Forces and Navy SEALS. The company was founded by two former SEALS, in fact. Former members of the French Foreign Legion also reportedly are fairly numerous.

(I wrote about the private armies being used by our government and corporations in Iraq more than a year ago. I did some research on them at that time.)

A few of the Blackwater mercenaries have been interviewed by reporters in New Orleans. A couple of reports have mentioned that the Blackwater guys are a bit peeved because members of a couple of other such outfits also operating in Louisiana are getting more than the $350 a day Blackwater is paying for bottom-level troops. (If you were wondering, that’s somewhat more than the National Guardsmen, Coast Guard sailors or local cops – who have been serving almost around the clock for weeks – are paid.)

Blackwater apparently has set up a very comfortable camp for its hirelings, and witnesses say they have great mounds of food, water and other supplies for their own use. They also have all sorts of classy transportation, including a helicopter or two, which the company claims have been used for rescue operations. I can’t find any independent confirmation of that.

The most interesting question, to my way of thinking, has yet to be answered. That is: WHAT THE HELL ARE MERCENARIES DOING IN NEW ORLEANS?

Excuse me for yelling in Internetese, but it is an enormously important question, and I can’t find any real answers. And the daily press, as I said, apparently has tacitly agreed to pretend the paid gunmen don't exist.

Some of the mercenaries have told reporters they are working for the city and/or the state of Louisiana and, in fact, a couple of reporters said they saw gun-toting guys in Blackwater uniforms wearing badges that identified the wearers as being Louisiana law-enforcement officers.

A spokeswoman for Blackwater, Anne Duke, told reporter reporter Bill Sizemore, writing for the Virginian-Pilot of Hampton Roads, Virginia, that while the company has about 200 "personnel" in the hurricane-struck area of Louisiana, they are not working for either the state or any municipality. Most, 164 Blackwater people, are under a contract with the Federal Protective Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Duke told Sizemore.

A couple of the Blackwater guys told another reporter that they had been given a right of arrest and the right to "use lethal force," but Duke told Sizemore they were "mistaken" if they thought that. They have not been deputized, she said.

Blackwater men on the streets told reporters they couldn't talk about their assignments. Duke described their job as protecting government facilities.

Only there aren’t any federal facilities to speak of where the mercenaries have been seen.
There is a small National Park Service office on one side of Jackson Square in the French Quarter, for example, but you have to believe me when I tell you it would be impossible to pack 200 gun toters into or in front of the space, which is about the size of your insurance agent’s office, if the office staff consists of two agents and a secretary. The most valuable contents of the office probably are tourist maps of the Quarter, if they haven’t become waterlogged.

Some of the mercenaries have been spotted guarding the entrance to and possibly the perimeter of a high-buck gated community – a cluster of homes of the very rich – but that’s the only place where a clear function has been established.

Of course, some folks might wonder if our tax dollars are paying for the $350-a-day-each (or more) hired guns to protect the homes of the rich, but those folks probably will not be surprised if they never get an answer to that question.

Duke said that Blackwater has "other employees" working for several private clients, including communications, petrochemical and insurance companies in the hurricane zone. No numbers given or clients named. To give benefit of the doubt where it may not be due – leaning over backward here -- it’s possible that insurers are paying for the armed guards at the gated housing area, but don’t bet the farm on it. To the Bush crowd, as we’ve often seen, coddling the rich is protecting the nation – that is, themselves.

Any number of reliable news agencies have reported the basic facts, although the reports have, as I said, been ignored by most "main stream" news outlets. Among the news outfits that have reported the mercenary presence in New Orleans are the Associated Press, the Guardian, widely respected radio commentator/reporter Amy Goodman (who personally interviewed a couple of the highly paid, self-described "trigger pullers"), online news and commentary outfits Democracy Now and Veterans for Common Sense, WAVY-TV in Virginia and KATC-TV in Lafayette, Louisiana. Undoubtedly there are more; those are just some of the ones I’ve seen.

But I haven’t seen such reports in the Minneapolis or St. Paul newspapers, or the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times, nor could I find any in a quick on-line search of other big newspapers, networks or stations.

The public needs to know those people are in New Orleans and environs, and we need to know what they’re doing there and who hired them and why. But that won’t happen until people demand answers from their newspapers and members of Congress and the White House and anybody else with clout they can hammer at.

Do we not have our own military available to do the public’s work in the hurricane area? If not, why not? What reason can there be for spending the kind of money that it takes to put those mercenaries on the ground?

Extremely importantly: To whom do those guns for hire owe their allegiance? To whom are they answerable? Do we have our own "warlords" and, if so, who are they?

Folks, the tame American press routinely refers to Blackwater and its competitors as "security firms" and "private contractors." But they are not retired guys sitting behind reception desks to supplement their pensions, or 40-something women who like sometimes to pretend they’re rough-tough cops. They are not advising government or corporate officers on investments or sexual harassment or how to deal with difficult staff members.

They are trained gunmen for hire, and they have sworn no allegiance to any government or set of laws or anybody other than the guy who offers the highest dollar.

I find that a bit disconcerting. More than a bit, actually.

(For a superb article on how the mercenaries and some of the big corporations, having milked funds for reconstruction of Iraq almost dry with the help of the Bush administration now are shifting their money-sucking attention to the Gulf Coast, under the same sponsorship, go to http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0914-25.htm It is a must-read piece.

(For an interesting take on how the rest of the world sees an America apparently poised for a new crash of 1929, go to http://www.jimklobuchar/