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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Firing Blackwater USA

A few days ago, Blackwater USA CEO Erik Prince wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. The gist of it is that the mercenary corporation is absolutely wonderful and we should just go ahead and ignore the fact that five guards were charged in an atrocity that left 17 unarmed Iraqis dead and involved a rocket-propelled grenade fired into a girls' school. These guys face a possible 47 years in prison for crimes ranging from weapons charges to voluntary manslaughter.

We're told Blackwater employees are "putting their lives at risk each day to protect U.S. Department of State officials and other civilians working in the country. Yet somehow that role and the part they play in this war have been grossly misunderstood." Unfortunately, Prince doesn't really explain why Blackwater is protecting that diplomatic corps. And no one else can either. Before the Bush administration, State Department employees were guarded by US Marines and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security -- an agency similar to the Secret Service. After Bush, Marines and federal cops were somehow not good enough anymore -- we had to hire rent-a-cops with machine guns. But it's the Bush administration, it doesn't have to make any sense. It just is. The fact that Prince and his family were significant donors to the Republican party and Bush's campaigns probably had nothing at all to do with it. Replacing US Marines with Blackwater employees was absolutely necessary because... Well, just because. Remember, if there's any possible way to privatize something, then Bushies go ahead and privatize it. The idea that government is hopelessly incompetent and wasteful extends even to the US Marine Corps. Way to support the troops, George.

But it turns out that Prince realized he had a bit of a public relations problem on his hand. Blackwater employees -- who have been regularly described as "thugs" -- didn't have the shiniest public reputation and that rep needed a little buffing. "What he says is less important that the fact that he's saying it at all," wrote Daniel Schuman for Mother Jones. Erik Prince, normally willing to shut up and let the Bush administration to all the Blackwater apologism, was forced to make his own case. Bush administration officials weren't rushing to the company's defense.





Turns out there was a reason for that. A leaked internal State Department report recommends firing Mercenaries-R-Us.

BBC:

Blackwater could lose its licence to operate in Iraq, rendering it unable to provide security for US diplomats, a US State Department internal report says.

The report, commissioned by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said the department should look for other ways to protect diplomats, US media said.

Ms Rice ordered a review of the use of private security firms after Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians.


"Blackwater's contract with the US government comes up for renewal early next year," the piece tells us, "so the decision on whether to renew it will be taken by US President-elect Barack Obama's administration." Assumedly, by future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Some have pointed out that Clinton's tied to Blackwater herself -- at least, tangentially. Mark Penn -- a top campaign adviser Clinton eventually fired -- worked for a firm that did PR work for Blackwater. All in all, a pretty weak link. In fact, her own views toward the company are made a little clearer by her past actions.

After the incident in Iraq, Clinton issued a statement. "From this war's very beginning, this administration has permitted thousands of heavily-armed military contractors to march through Iraq without any law or court to rein them in or hold them accountable," it read. "These private security contractors have been reckless and have compromised our mission in Iraq. The time to show these contractors the door is long past due." Not exactly a fan letter. She didn't stop there.

TPMMuckraker:

[I]n late February, Clinton became the sole Senate cosponsor of a bill, S.2398, the Stop Outsourcing Security Act that had been introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

In a major speech on Iraq a couple of weeks later, Hillary reiterated her support for removing private contractors from "combat-oriented and security functions in Iraq."

"For five years their behavior and lack of supervision and accountability have often eroded our credibility, endangered U.S. and Iraqi lives and undermined our mission," she noted.


Erik Prince clearly has no friend in Hillary Clinton. In fact, wording within the Stop Outsourcing Security Act reads, "Not later than 6 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall ensure that all personnel at any United States diplomatic or consular mission in Iraq are provided security services only by Federal Government personnel."

Oddly, it was Barack Obama who was less enthusiastic about removing Blackwater. The TPMMuckraker piece tells us, "The transition's official Web site only says that Obama will 'establish the legal status of contractor personnel, making possible prosecution of any abuses committed by private military contract.'" I suppose you could argue that with State's new report and its recommendation that Blackwater be canned, Obama would be open to the idea. Clearly, Blackwater's presence in Iraq serves no logical purpose and the US government should not be in the business of making busy work for mercenaries.

Especially these mercenaries. "A congressional investigation found that private State Department security contractors from Blackwater alone were involved in nearly 200 'escalation of force' incidents between 2005 and 2007, including multiple killings of Iraqi civilians," TPM tells us. In other words, as security guards go, these guys suck.

And now it's official. A report written under Rice's leadership -- not Clinton's -- recommends Blackwater be fired. It's hard to think of any argument against that recommendation.

But that hasn't stopped Erik Prince from trying.

-Wisco

1 comment:

vet said...

What interests me is: why use Blackwater?

Are they cheaper, for the same level of service? I doubt it.

Are they better equipped, more professional, more highly trained? That would raise some follow-up questions.

Is it because they're not bound by the same rules of engagement and military discipline as regular soldiers? So when they murder civilians, it happens at arms' length from the government? Not very convincing. In practice the government ends up "regretting" it either way.

Or is it because, when a Blackwater employee dies, he's not a US military member, so he doesn't appear on the official casualty stats? That sounds slightly plausible. We know the administration counts "civilian and contractor" deaths sometimes, but not in the routinely-announced DoD figures. However, that's not a motivation that reflects great credit on their employers.

Or is it, purely and simply, pork -- a way of channelling taxpayer dollars into the pockets of Eric Prince and his henchmen?

I'd love to see a "leaked report" (since there doesn't seem to be any other kind) showing a cost-benefit analysis for the decision to employ mercenaries in Iraq.