Old Blackwater Keep on Rolling…

Buzzflash recently did an interview with Jeremy Scahill, author of a new book on our government’s biggest security vendor, Blackwater. Some of you may have come across it.

For those of you who didn’t, Scahill offers some sobering facts that should give you a nice case of the heebie jeebies:

We’re talking about a company that was founded by a man named Erik Prince, who comes from a family that was one of the top bank rollers of, not only the “Republican revolution” of the 1990s that brought Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America to power, but also the rise of what we now know as the religious right or the Christian conservative movement. Erik Prince’s family helped James Dobson found Focus on the Family. Erik Prince’s family gave the seed money for Gary Bauer to found the Family Research Council. Erik Prince himself is a major bank roller of President Bush, his allies, and the Christian conservative movement in this country.

Nervous yet? As they say in those late night infomercials, “But wait! There’s more!”…

First of all, the law that technically governs contractors and mercenaries in Iraq is provided under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000. Basically what that said is that the FBI and the U.S. attorneys in the United States are responsible for prosecuting contractor crimes committed in Iraq or Afghanistan. With 100,000 contractors running around Iraq, what prosecutor from Virginia is going to fly over to Iraq, investigate a murder, interview Iraqi witnesses, then capture this person, bring them back to the United States, and prosecute them? It’s one of the most ridiculous, fanciful concepts that I’ve seen in this war.

The mercenary industry loves the current state of affairs is because it’s totally unenforced. On paper, yes, there’s a law that governs contractors in Iraq. In reality, only one contractor has been indicted for any crime or violation in Iraq. Either we have 100,000 saints running around as contractors in Iraq, or something is very rotten. I happen to think that something is very rotten.

And then Scahill reports this ominous development:

When Hurricane Katrina hit, Blackwater started a domestic operations division of its company, and it began seeking greater contracting opportunities domestically inside of the United States. At one point, the federal government was paying Blackwater about $240,000 a day for Hurricane Katrina. The company was billing the government $950 per day, per Blackwater man deployed in the hurricane zone. They had about 600 guys stretched from Texas all the way through the Gulf region.

Now Blackwater’s been in negotiations with several state governments in the United States. Blackwater met recently with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger about doing disaster response in California. They’re opening up a new private military base in San Diego. Another one is in Mount Carroll, Illinois. They have applied for operating licenses in every coastal U.S. state. This is the expansion of a privatized army.

Now if you aren’t worked up as yet, maybe this will get you just a tad exercised:

This Administration brought in an incredible number of people from corporate America to run the Pentagon. You have the neoconservative ideologues, on the one hand, and then you have the weapons manufacturers on the other hand. That made up the core of the Pentagon leadership. They’re obsessed with running government like a venture capital firm.

And that has a number of benefits to it. It really removes the Congressional oversight factor from the equation when you’re operating with an increased presence of the private sector. Also, you keep corporations alive and profitable. You’re able to keep the businesses of your friends and your political supporters alive. We’ve seen an absolute revolving door between the weapons manufacturers, the war servicing companies, the mercenary companies, and the Republican Party and the Republican leadership, and this Administration.

This is part and parcel of running the government like a corporation, where the citizens are essentially subjects of this privatized government. The military is perhaps the most prominent example of that right now, but we also see it in our schools, prisons, state and local governments, and in law enforcement agencies. The fact is, in the United States right now, there are more private security operators than there are actual police officers. That’s an extraordinary development in the history of privatization.

What all this means for us as consumers – er – subjects – er – citizens is that a huge private army of mercenaries is being created by a rabid adherent of the Religious Right who is a close personal friend of Bush. This raises all kinds of questions about where their loyalties would lie – after all, they’re paid corporate mercenaries, not soldiers of the empire – er – republic.

And this army is being created with taxpayer money.

21 replies »

  1. It’s a great book, Jim! I’m just in the middle of it, and every few pages Scahill dishes another astonishing fact that’s new to me.

    We need a universal draft rather than hiring mercenaries to do our dirty work. Bush would never have been able to get away with the horrors of Iraq as long as he has if three or four hundred thousand Americans, drawn unwillingly from all walks of life, were being shot at. Then the Department of Defense might be forced to defend this country rather than attacking others.

  2. This is one of the top few reasons why Washington needs to be swept clean of Republicans for at least four years. Not saying we need to eliminate the GOP – I’m not quite ready to buy into the idea of a one-party Dem hegemony just yet, thank you – but a lot of things have been assembled that need to be knocked down, hauled to the woodpile, and burned. And some powerful and visible mechanisms to prevent it from ever happening again need to be put in place.

    Would this happen under Hil or Barack or Edwards or Richardson? Who knows. But we need to be asking that question of them. And if the answer is no, then we need to move on to the next candidate, and keep moving until we get a yes.

  3. The entire “private contractor” idea for the military needs to be expunged. Sure, you save money, and that’s all well and good, but cooks that are soldiers can still pick up a gun and shoot if needed – they’re still soldiers, just soldiers that cook instead of soldiers that repair tanks or soldiers that patrol Baghdad.

    If that leads to a bigger military, great. We need that too.

  4. Jim, I was gonna write about this myself, but you beat me to it and did a masterful job. Good work.

    The sight of those black-clad stormtroopers stalking the streets of New Orleans fills me with dread to this day. We’re building a permanent “warrior class” like the shogunates of Japan, but where the old samurai had codes of honor and conduct to live by, these new soldiers are guided by the terrible combination of naked greed and extreme Dominionist/evangelical ideology.

    The most amazing thing is that even with all of these massive private armies at work, we have still utterly failed to gain any headway in Iraq, and yet I’m sure that won’t stop Prince and his company from taking ever more turns at the pig-slop trough that is government contracting.

    Disgusting and horrifying. Again, good work, Jim.

  5. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. But what I hoped was that someone would note that I managed to make the Doobie Brothers momentarily relevant again… (wait, let me think about that)…well, momentarily relevant, anyway….

    On a more somber note, while Martin likens these guys to the Japanese “warrior class,” an interesting comparison to be sure, I liken them more to Oliver Cromwell’s “Ironsides” – his elite personal guard who drank the kool-aid on his personal vision of England as the “New Jerusalem” – funny how that term keeps popping up, but these guys are often motivated by more than mere money – they’re joining this private army for some reasons I don’t think we’re facing squarely enough yet.

    While some of them are true mercenaries, I fear that a goodly number are recruited from the “evangelical/dominionist” trained and educated ranks (places like Patrick Henry College here in VA turn out potential Blackwater troopers by the busload every year now, thanks to the fast track approval of their “security administration” major programs by the dept. of Homeland Security) and are in this for Prince’s – and Bush’s – vision of America as a “New Jerusalem.”

    Shiver inducing, indeed….

    As for voting out the Republicans as a solution, I don’t think that will stop their planning and acting to bring on that New Jerusalem. I think they’re creating a separate nation under their particular god with freedom and justice for – those who adhere to their tenets.

    I think we may eventually be dealing with – all jokes about Bushisms aside – real freedom haters…

  6. I noticed the Doobie Bros. reference; my favorite song of theirs, w/ some great fiddle. I can’t help thinking that Blackwater and its ilk were set up to assist the Bushies in declaring martial law. I’d put nothing past them.