It may be stating the obvious, since war encompasses everything that is the worst in humanity, but war brings out the worst in people. It's hard to imagine a more stressful situation than being a professional target or obstacle to people with guns and bombs. Nothing makes any damned sense -- at least, not in any way we've been brought up to believe. Killing is desirable and non-aggression is cowardice. Destruction is celebrated, not the human impulse to build. Anger and hatred propel you forward, where empathy, morality, and love for humanity can only hold you back.
When you drop someone in the middle of this society in reverse and they lose it, it shouldn't surprise anyone. We pretend to be shocked, but we know the history of war. It's never been any other way. When you 'let slip the dogs of war,' crime -- beyond the crime of war itself -- is unleashed as well. It can't be any other way and it's unrealistic to imagine any other outcome.
The military has some controls in this system of legalized crime. There are still lines that can't be crossed and crossing those lines turns on the justice machine -- in theory, anyway. It doesn't always work that way, but that's the way it's supposed to work. There are checks on the soldier's behavior, even if they're terribly inconsistent.
But in this war, in our time, there are more than soldiers on the ground in Iraq. Private contractors, who aren't governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and who, according to the Associated Press, "are exempt from prosecution by Iraqis for crimes committed there," also exist there. The only real check on these people are the fact that they can be fired. Technically, they're supposed to provide security, but they act as far more than rent-a-cops. They are a collection of private armies.
Writes Deborah Hastings for AP:
There are now nearly as many private contractors in Iraq as there are U.S. soldiers - and a large percentage of them are private security guards equipped with automatic weapons, body armor, helicopters and bullet-proof trucks.
They operate with little or no supervision, accountable only to the firms employing them. And as the country has plummeted toward anarchy and civil war, this private army has been accused of indiscriminately firing at American and Iraqi troops, and of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens who got too close to their heavily armed convoys.
Not one has faced charges or prosecution.
You don't get these guys for free, this is your tax dollars at work. Hastings tells us, "Security firms earn more than $4 billion in government contracts" -- even though we have no idea how many 'security officers' are on the ground or even where many of them are. "I understand this is war," says Rep. Jan Schakowsky, "But that's absolutely no excuse for letting this very large force of armed private employees, dare I say mercenaries, run around without any accountability to anyone."
These security officers suck rocks at supplying security. On Christmas Eve, 2006, for example, a drunken Blackwater USA employee shot and killed a guard for the iraqi Vice President. The employee made his way to the US embassy, where he was flown out of the country. Eight months after this murder, he hasn't been charged with any crime.
Back to the AP story, another example involves an "incident in which a supervisor for a Virginia-based security company [Triple Canopy] said he was 'going to kill somebody today' and then shot at Iraqi civilians for amusement, possibly killing one, according to two employees" -- it was the witnesses who were fired for reporting the crime, not the shooter for committing it.
Other crimes came to light when "employees of London-based Aegis Defence Services, holder of one of the biggest U.S. security contracts in Iraq - valued at more than $430 million - posted videos on the Internet in 2005 showing company guards firing automatic weapons at civilians from the back of a moving security vehicle."
Here's an interesting and obvious question -- if armed thugs were doing this sort of thing on your street, what would you do? The answer probably depends on your age.
It may seem anti-intuitive, but kids join gangs to protect them from crime. At least, in the US. In Iraq there are other organizations they can turn to. "I returned to the bureau in tears after hearing one story after the others of brutal killings at the hands of the Mahdi Army," wrote Laila Fadel of McClatchy Newspapers in June, "It was Lord of the Flies, young boys ruling and killing in a Baghdad neighborhood." It begs the question, how much do these hired seciurity officers contribute to insecurity?
You might remember the fate of four Blackwater employees lynched in Iraq. On March 31, 2004, they were burned, beaten, decapitated, and their bodies hung from a bridge over the Euphrates in Fallujah. It was a horrific crime. But there was no explanation as to why those employees were in Fallujah -- there was no legitimante reason for it and, at the time, the city could only be considered 'enemy territory.'
That's when things got really weird:
...Following these gruesome deaths which were broadcast on worldwide television, the surviving family members looked to Blackwater for answers as to how and why their loved ones died. Blackwater not only refused to give the grieving families any information, but also callously stated that they would need to sue Blackwater to get it. Left with no alternative, in January 2005, the families filed suit against Blackwater, which is owned by the wealthy and politically-connected Erik Prince.
Blackwater quickly adapted its battlefield tactics to the courtroom. It initially hired Fred F. Fielding, who is currently counsel to the President of the United States. It then hired Joseph E. Schmitz as its in-house counsel, who was formerly the Inspector General at the Pentagon. More recently, Blackwater employed Kenneth Starr, famed prosecutor in the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal, to oppose the families. To add additional muscle, Blackwater hired Cofer Black, who was the Director of the CIA Counter- Terrorist Center.
Blackwater sued the families for $10 million to get them to shut the hell up. These people, who are thugs on the streets of Iraq, are thugs all the way up to the executive level. And likely criminal -- you don't go to such lengths to cover up something where there's no wrongdoing. Those contractors were in Fallujah and the most likely reason was that they were sent there.
We can also see that these security contractors are very well connected -- and, in the case of Blackwater, to one party exclusively. With connections like these, how likely do you think it is that anyone in the Justice Dept. or the Pentagon is going to investigate them? These people are a street gang and the only difference between them and the punk on the street are expensive suits, glass executive towers, and well-connected buddies. They shoot at iraqis and americans with impunity, they're unaccountable for their crimes, they're given absolute free reign in Iraq, and they're doing it all on the public dime.
Back in March, I wrote about a single death in Iraq, quoting Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher, "Col. Ted Westhusing, a West Point scholar, put a bullet in his head in Iraq after reporting widespread corruption. His suicide note -- complaining about human rights abuses and other crimes -- was addressed to his two commanders, including Gen. David Petraeus, now leader of the U.S. 'surge' effort in Iraq. It urged them to 'Reevaluate yourselves....You are not what you think you are and I know it.'"
Col. Westhusing chose death before dishonor. Those who defend hired thugs like Blackwater USA, Triple Canopy, or Aegis Defence Services embrace dishonor.
And they do so on your dime and in your name.
Technorati tags: politics; Iraq; Blackwater; Triple Canopy; Aegis Defence Services; Pentagon; law; scandal; crime; We're outsourcing war to republican street thugs