James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Whose army? Not our army

The question has been nagging at me for years, the need for an answer growing stronger by the year:

Why do our president, George W. Bush, and his overseer/mentor, Dick Cheney, need a large private army?

That's the stuff of Afghani war lords and Colombian drug barons. It's not something that's ever been required before in the brief but significant history of the United States of America.

Private armies mean private agendas, operating outside the law, conducting illegal warfare out of sight of the public and hidden from those who are supposed to provide checks and balances. Private armies mean conspiracies against the public good, and plots to subvert the government. Often, they mean revolution or illegal takeover of that government or at least gutting its power so that the warlord can rule.

You would not be unreasonable to think "Brown Shirts" when thinking "private army."

It's an open fact that Bush and his bunch of neocons have worked tirelessly to give our government to their corporate friends. Much of the work of most major government agencies now is done by corporate “contractors” at much greater expense and with much less efficiency than when government employees did the work.

The “bureaucracy” so hated by the right wing was and is demonstrably better and less costly than the corporate greedheads who charge big bucks and, often obviously, do lousy jobs, if they do them at all.

Private contractors took over operations of Walter Reed Hospital and turned it into a nightmare for injured soldiers. Private contractors – most especially Dick Cheney's own Halliburton – took over military mess halls, and supply lines and much more in Iraq, and from the very beginning robbed us blind. Even operation of government data bases and collecting of taxes has been turned over to private contractors.

The corporations, always chosen for their support of Republican candidates and causes and because of personal relationships with Bush, Cheney and crew, “save money” by paying their employees less than government employees earned and by simply not doing what needs to be done. The savings are eaten up and then some by huge executive pay and profits, and the public suffers because of the failures to perform.

All of that I understand. Bushies hate government, Bushies don't give a damn about anyone who is not them, Bushies believe wealth and profit are the only true “values.”

Since our invasion of Iraq, says a recent report in Hightower Lowdown, the value of government contracts given to Cheney's enterprise, Halliburton, mostly without the bother of competing bids, has increased by 600 percent. Nobody else has done quite that well, but friends and relatives are growing very, very fat at the trough.

But private armies are a special category.

Although they are extremely profitable for those who own and run them, and all of those that work for Bush & Co. are owned and run by wealthy right wing extremists who support Bush's wars, I still want a full explanation of the goal and purpose for nurturing and using private armies running to tens of thousands of troops.

Congress should demand complete disclosure, but Congress should do a great many things that it won't do because the great majority of its members are cowardly little shits.

A writer for a small but important public affairs magazine recently reported that a few members of Congress asked him for information about the mercenary armies because the Bush administration and the companies stonewalled them when they sought such information. And they put up with it and meekly asked a reporter for information.

Ye gods.

Most Americans undoubtedly are unaware that there are almost as many private army troops in Iraq as there are members of the legitimate U.S. armed forces. The latest report I've seen, published in May, shows Blackwater USA et al troop strength at 126,000 and growing.

Most Americans undoubtedly also are unaware that private troops are responsible for protection of the U.S. ambassador in Iraq and, get this, for protection of the general who heads the U.S. Army contingent in that miserable country.

Can you imagine Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley or, m'gawd, George Patton using hired guns rather than any of their own troops as body guards? Two bit dictators in revolution-a-month countries have hired gunsels for bodyguards, not U.S. ambassadors and American Army generals.

Except that now they do.

Another interesting fact: Private army troops, not the U.S. Army, guard U.S. Army bases in Iraq. Our soldiers apparently can't protect themselves as well as the mercenaries.

But then, the mercenaries make five, ten, fifteen times what our soldiers earn.

The corporate press, to its everlasting shame (but then it now is totally shameful on many counts) continues to report now and then on the death of “contractors” and will not report, though it is true, that most of the contractors who are killed are mercenary soldiers.

Neither does the corporate media tell the public who those soldiers are. Some small but important and trustworthy publications have dealt with that a bit, however.

Those soldiers are former members of “elite” U.S. military outfits such as the Rangers and the SEALS, who got their training at our expense and then moved to Blackwater or Kroll, Inc. or Custer Battles or one of the other outfits to make upward of $150,000 a year – often way upward. They're also former members of various Israeli commando-type units and spook units, and former members of the French Foreign Legion and kill-for-hire Turks and Germans and sometimes Kurds, though the Kurds and others from so-called Third World countries are paid less than the others, or so I've read.

The Washington Post (June 16) said that – this is amazing – about 100 “security companies” are operating in Iraq. They are headquartered in various places around the world, though the British seem to be the biggest operators after the U.S. entrepreneurs.

The mercenaries in Iraq are outside the law, Iraqi law, our law, any law. They're supposed to be licensed to operate in Iraq, but few, if any, are licensed. Blackwater had a license a couple of years ago, but it expired; Blackwater is still there in ever greater force. The excuse is that the licensing process is too slow and – you have to love this – those controlling licenses are corrupt.

Our government says, when pushed, that the private troops are there because of chronic personnel shortages in our own military.

Some thinking person might suggest that the chronic shortages are directly tied to the fact that we are in an illegal, immoral and losing conflict in Iraq, but that wouldn't cut any ice with Bush/Cheney.

The Post said that the military plans to “outsource” at least $1.5 billion in “security operations” in Iraq to the private armies this year, but the fact is that no one but the players know how much those armies really are costing us. The true costs undoubtedly are far greater than the reported numbers. All you have to do is count people, get a vague idea of average salaries and a rough idea of the high-tech equipment and that becomes obvious.

Those mercenaries are costing us – you and me. All of that money is our tax money, but it doesn't show up on any budget that's available for public viewing.

So, OK. There's a reason for the buildup of private armies: They can hide the cost.

Doesn't seem like a complete answer, though, given that the government, the Pentagon and, like no other administration in history, the Bush crowd are expert in hiding facts from the public anyway.

Oh: And no one monitors the mercenaries' operations, they are not under the command of the U.S. Army or its officers – except, presumably, the personal guards of the generals.

For some years, the private troops avoided battle in Iraq, but recently they've been in the thick of some fights. The New York Times reported last month that the death toll for “contractors” (still using that word) “soared to record levels this year.” At least 146 mercenaries were killed in the first three months of the year, the Times said, bringing the total killed since the invasion to 917 and the number of wounded mercenaries (my word) to more than 12,000.

The latter numbers undoubtedly include quite a few who really were not mercenary soldiers, though. Many of them were mercenary truck drivers, tank mechanics and the like.

OK, another reason for private armies: As a rule, no one reports casualty numbers. The Times figure may or may not be accurate, but the fact is that the numbers of dead, maimed and mentally destroyed would be much higher if the mercenaries were included or if U.S. military personnel were there instead of the mercenaries. The true human cost of the war can be hidden this way.

An often reported fact: While U.S. military personnel still – STILL, DAMN IT –are not fully equipped, the mercenaries have the latest and best of everything, including heavily armored vehicles and even some sophisticated aircraft. We pay for their equipment.

I keep thinking back to Hurricane Katrina and the fact that Blackwater troops were sent into New Orleans after the storm. Nobody seemed to know what they were there for, nobody admitted hiring them or sending them in. At first they were armed with automatic and even heavier weapons and moved sometimes in heavy armored vehicles. Later, they went around more lightly armed.

The Blackwater people in New Orleans told a few reporters that they had been deputized, were licensed to arrest and to shoot if they thought it necessary. Every police agency in the city and region denied having given them any police powers, however.

Some of the mercenaries guarded the homes of the very rich in and around New Orleans for awhile. It was not clear that the others did anything. Eventually they went away as mysteriously as they arrived.

The company somewhat later claimed that it was employed to provide security, transportation, logistics and airlift services and “humanitarian support services.”

Perhaps it was a training exercise, but if so, training for what?

Sorry, I do not see a legitimate reason for the huge growth of private armies at our expense – or at anybody's expense for that matter.

Never forget: The leaders and members of a mercenary force take no oaths of allegiance to a country. They are loyal only to whomever pays them – and then, I suspect, only if they share their patrons' ideology.

Speaking of ideology:

Blackwater USA, still by far the biggest mercenary army working for Bush & Co. -- in fact, the largest mercenary army in the world -- was founded just ten years ago by two men, Erik Prince and Al Clark. Prince is the key player.

It has headquarters and a huge training facility in North Carolina. The training ground is variously reported at 6,000 or 7,000 acres. It offers tactics and weapons training not only to its own personnel but also to other military, government and law enforcement bodies (not necessarily American). In fact, it will train anybody who can pay – supposedly only if they can pass background and criminal checks, but who knows?

In addition to the very best in personal armor and weapons, Blackwater has top-line land vehicles and several types of military helicopters.

Prince is a former Navy SEAL. He also is a billionaire right winger and super fundamentalist Christian. He comes from a highly connected Republican family from Michigan, he's a big contributor to the Republicans and was a White House intern under Bush the First. He campaigned for Pat Buchanan in 1992. His father, Edgar Prince, was a co-founder with Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council, as right wing a Christian fundamentalist organization as can be found, and Erik Prince also was an intern in that organization.