Government kneedeep in Blackwater

george.hunt and george.hunt

America has rarely used mercenaries in its wars. Patriotism, a sense of civic duty, and occasional conscription have filled the ranks of troops. However, recently the government’s craze for privatization has begun to include the military. The Pentagon estimates that there are at least 20,000 members of private security firms in Iraq. Other estimates range as high as 100,000. One of the best known of these firms is Blackwater USA, which has recently lost its license to operate in Iraq. The Iraqi government made its decision after Blackwater troops fired into a crowd, killing eight and wounding thirteen. Witnesses report that most of the crowd were bystanders, and one of the dead was an Iraqi policeman. These kind of incidents only fuel the fire of outrage against Americans. Expelling Blackwater is a good choice for Iraq, and it would be also be a good decision for America.
Brigadier General Karl Horst is one of many military officials to speak out against groups like Blackwater. He points out how they are frequently irresponsible, leaving killings and their aftermath to be dealt with by the US Army. Blackwater and their ilk have a major flaw in their strategy – they are concerned with profit before any other concern. Unlike the Army, which can take the time and expense to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis, private security companies seek to generate the best bottom line doing only what their missions demand. The effort to save money can also lead to American fatalities. The founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince, said of the Army: “.they say, ‘Ah, we need about 100 guys to do that job,’ we say, ‘Actually you only need about 10.'” Private contractors claim to be far more cost-effective than public organizations. But is saving money really the top priority when American lives are at stake?
Evidently, some of the families of Blackwater employees don’t think so. After their sons and husbands died in mysterious circumstances, four families sued Blackwater. Bear this in mind – they sued Blackwater not for money or for wrongful death, but simply to declassify the records regarding their loved ones’ deaths. Not only did Blackwater not comply, they countersued for $10 million from the estates of the deceased. Is this the kind of company that Americans want representing them abroad? For that matter, who represents them to us?
It is doubtful that many readers will be surprised to learn that Blackwater has been defended by both Ken Starr and the Alexander Strategy Group. For the record, Ken Starr was the special counsel in the investigation against president Bill Clinton. The Alexander Strategy Group has represented such prestigious clients as Jack Abramoff, R.J. Reynolds, and Enron. It is curious that Blackwater would manage to attain such high-profile representation. One wonders if it has anything to do with the fact that Blackwater’s founder is married to Betsy DeVos, former chairman of Michigan’s Republican Party and wife of gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos. Erik Prince was also a major campaign contributor to President Bush.
This is why it is so concerning that Blackwater has been awarded so many government contracts. Blackwater has received over $500,000,000 in government contracts, of which more than two-thirds have been no-bid. Perhaps this deflates the argument that Blackwater simply wants a free market for military operations. The government also spent $240,000 daily to fund Blackwater’s operations in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. This might be less concerning, if not for the fact that company spending is untraceable. In fact, many private contractors favored by the Bush administration, such as Halliburton, consider all billing classified. Ordinary Americans are instructed to simply trust that the money is being spent wisely, despite the fact that billions are unaccounted for since the beginning of the war.
The trouble with companies like Blackwater is not only that their expenditures are unaccountable – it’s that they are. Private security companies frequently understate their encounters with insurgents. In a war already wracked by wrongful killings, private military firms add another layer of unaccountability. The International Peace Operations Association, a trade group which represents Blackwater and several other private security firms, claims that its members are exempt from conventional military law. Americans should demand that their government own up to its actions. All private military operations should end, pending investigations. The best soldiers fight for their country, not for private gain. America already has the greatest troops in the world, and does not need to pay for extra help.