Blackwater highlights prominent role of private war contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq

There are over 242,000 Defense Department contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This at times exceeds the amount of troops we have officially deployed.  The cost is well over $100 billion to American taxpayers.

The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee met a few weeks ago to address the acts of Blackwater in Afghanistan, “accusing them of ignoring regulations and threatening the American mission there.”  (Due to many questionable acts leading to unnecessary civilian casualties, Blackwater recently changed their name to “Xe,” presumably in hopes to whitewash their reputation.)

Afghans do not distinguish between contractors and uniformed soldiers.  In light of this fact, Senator McCaskill (D-MO) says “we have two sets of rules and one image.”  The “image” she refers to is one shared by all Americans.  It has been damaged enough by our own official military expeditions, and now it is further jeopardized by the irresponsibility of private war contractors.

Xe Services not only continues to employ in Afghanistan, but they were nearly awarded another $1.1 billion contract from the U.S. Army.  Fortunately, Congress put a stop to the contract, with Senator Levin (D-MI) reminding members that it operated “with almost no consideration of the rules it was legally obligated to follow.”  This includes stealing rifles and pistols from U.S. run armories intended for Afghan forces.

There was a time when wars were fought using mercenary armies under the direction of kings and aristocracies.  Since the American and French Revolution, a “new kind of war” has been fought.  Bertrand Russell describes this war as “one in which the whole nation participates enthusiastically because it believes that it has something of value to defend.”  In fact, he even states, “This is one of the strongest reasons for expecting democracy to survive.” (Understanding History, 1957)

After the revolutions of the late 18th century, people were further empowered to participate in ruling affairs.  However temporary and illusionary this freedom actually was, no doubt it was (and still is) a belief held by many.  Therefore, in the aftermath of the world revolutions, governments have benefited greatly from the new ideology that accompanied modern liberation.  This new application of democracy lent larger armies to the State.  Soldiers displayed passion and zeal to fight voluntarily, with minimal pay.  Honor and respect were bestowed upon their return.

Today, uniformed soldiers are under international pressure to avoid genocide, killing non-combative civilians, raping, pillaging, etc.  Any of these acts performed must be minimized or concealed.  Mercenary soldiers have only recently come to public attention.  In fact, one could argue, had they followed the rules the public at large would have had no idea they were being employed.

It may be true— especially in these uncertain economic times— that many within our armed forces have committed to fight for financial security alone.  In this sense, they are not much unlike private war contractors.  Of course, they are only paid about one-fourth of what a private contractor can make (which, incidentally, makes them ideal recruits).  Private war contractors are paid by the same people who pay soldiers: US taxpayers.  We are privatizing our military with rewards hard to ignore: a lot more money with less rules and responsibility.

Their pay isn’t exactly capped, either.  Earlier this year, Juan Gonzalez (Democracy Now!) said that “Blackwater is reportedly paying $100,000 for each of the Iraqis killed by its forces and between $20,000 to $30,000 to each Iraqi wounded.”  House representative Schakowsky (D – IL) was interviewed during the show.  She asked the pertinent question: “why would anyone hire this company, which is a repeat offender, threatening the mission of the United States… and also known to threaten and kill innocent civilians? It is just amazing to me…”  She frequently informs us that 40 cents of every dollar goes to a private contractor— although this is only an estimation, another telling fact (if a Congresswoman has to estimate, what hope does the public have for obtaining the truth?).

So why hire them—or any war contractors at all?  Is this a sign that democracy is failing—i.e. that we have to pay contractors to fight our wars like kings and aristocrats of old?  Or are military powers intentionally trying to avert long standing internationally conceded upon laws of war?

Military authorities the world over will sidestep legitimate operatives in order to achieve objectives otherwise unattainable. The New York Times reported a recent example of this.  It appears that we are not only sending unmanned drones to attack in Pakistan, but also running off-the-book operations with contracted covert spies, which is generally considered illegal.  Most likely these operations are improperly financed, and “may be seen as an attempt to get around the Pakistani government’s prohibition of American military personnel’s operating in the country.”

Is civilization moving forward towards diplomacy and peace, or backwards into a renewed state of barbarianism?  Modern war is so atrocious that it begs the question whether there is such a thing as Western Civilization.  Perhaps this is why when Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western Civilization, he replied: “I think it would be a very good idea.”