One can draw a straight line from Tim Weiner’s extensive report on the CIA, Legacy of Ashes and this book by Jeremy Scahill on the outsourcing of American military, security, and investigative duties. Scahill centers his work around the event that transfixed the world and brought awareness of Blackwater to the fore for those of us not immediately engaged in military operations: the 2004 murder of Blackwater employees in the city of Fallujah wherein the victims were killed, dismembered, and hung from an overpass to remind Americans that in Fallujah at least, Americans were not welcome.
What Scahill shares with us here is his report of a Christian army of for-profit soldiers headquartered in North Carolina who have grown in size and weaponry to rival national militaries around the world. Begun in 1997 as a private advanced training facility for active-duty soldiers and police, Blackwater grew during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to supplying weapons-trained military “security personnel,” receiving lucrative contracts from a U.S. government unwilling to face the political backlash from a public unhappy with military losses overseas. Blackwater marketed its services by saying it could accomplish more with less, though it is difficult to see how their proffered services cost us less.
As profits grew for the corporate organization, Blackwater sought cheaper and cheaper contracts with mercenary soldiers in South American and Latin American countries, as well as Eastern European, African, and select Asian countries. Sometimes when they cut corners on equipment, training, or staffing they found themselves embroiled in lawsuits in the U.S. as a result of tragic and allegedly preventable deaths.
What was particularly shocking to me was the overt tone of the speeches and promotional material produced by the leadership of the organization, in that it completely resembled ISIS rhetoric about holy wars, and fighting for the will of God. Far right wing religious groups with which Blackwater founder Erik Prince is affiliated were writing in the 1990’s that the Christian community might need to face the possibility that the “regime” (our government!) might force their Church into confrontation ranging from “noncompliance…to morally justified revolution.” It is in this context that the largest privately-held store of military grade weapons was begun. Their god is a Christian one, but they stand allied with Israel, and trace their religious roots back to the Crusades, which was medieval in its very concept and reflected the fanatic religious warriors now terrorizing the Middle East.
Scahill is scrupulous in his reporting on the effect of Blackwater forces in the Iraq and Afghan wars, and when it seems he might be getting off the point by describing, for instance, the Chilean mercenary contingent that became a part of Blackwater, he is so vastly interesting that I’m glad he left the material in. Scahill also details the use of Blackwater forces in the catastrophe that was Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, providing property and force protection for FEMA officials. It seems appropriate somehow that Bush was more concerned with property than with residents.
More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that these contractors do not operate under the same restrictions and set of rules that govern national troops, and their contracts often leave them free of liability or of obligations in terms of insurance that we commonly find acceptable. Critics decry the rise of heavily-armed mercenaries as “killers for hire,” suggesting that their contractual freedom from culpability and their for-profit motive may lead them to start conflict rather than prevent it.
The growth of Blackwater was exponential during the years of a Republican government and was not curbed enough under a Democratic president. “In 2008 the number of private contractors in Iraq was at a one-to-one ratio with active-duty U.S. soldiers,” according to Scahill. This book was published in 2007 and updated in 2008, but a June 2010 article in Nation magazine written by Scahill brings us up to date:
“Blackwater is up for sale and its shadowy owner, Erik Prince, is rumored to be planning to move to the United Arab Emirates as his top deputies face indictment for a range of alleged crimes, yet the company remains a central part of President Obama’s Afghanistan war. Now, Blackwater’s role is expanding…
...Earlier this year, Schakowsky and Senator Bernie Sanders reintroduced the Stop Outsourcing Security Act, which would phase out the use of private security contractors by the government. Ironically, Hillary Clinton was a co-sponsor of the legislation when she was a senator and running for president. Now, as Secretary of State, she is the US official in charge of most Blackwater contracts. Blackwater is also bidding on a contract potentially worth up to $1 billion to train the Afghan National Police.”
It is difficult for me to accept the concept of a religiously-motivated army and I am not comfortable with a extra-legal military force that operates for profit.
Scahill won the George Polk Award for his reporting on Blackwater. The book is beautifully written and though a big book, it is an engrossing read. I listened to the Blackstone Audio production audio read by Tom (not Tim) Weiner and thought it terrific.
You can buy this book here: Tweet