The Rise of Mercenary Armies: A Threat to Global Security

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The growing
use of private armies not only subjects target populations to savage
warfare but makes it easier for the White House to subvert domestic
public opinion and wage wars.

Americans are
less inclined to oppose a war that is being fought by hired foreign
mercenaries, even when their own tax dollars are being squandered
to fund it.

“The increasing
use of contractors, private forces, or, as some would say, ‘mercenaries’
makes wars easier to begin and to fight – it just takes money and
not the citizenry,” said Michael Ratner, of New York’s
Center for Constitutional Rights. “To the extent a population
is called upon to go to war, there is resistance, a necessary resistance
to prevent wars of self-aggrandizement, foolish wars, and, in the
case of the United States, hegemonic imperialist wars.”

Indeed, the
Pentagon learned the perils of the draft from the massive public
protests it provoked during the Viet Nam war. Today, it would prefer,
and is working toward, an electronic battlefield where the fighting
is done by robots guided by sophisticated surveillance systems that
will minimize U.S. casualties. Meanwhile, it tolerates the use of
private contractors to help fight its battles.

Iraq offers
a heart-breaking example of a war in which contract fighters so
inflamed the public they were sent to “liberate” that
when fighting broke out in Fallujah the bodies of privateer Blackwater’s
four slain mercenaries were desecrated by enraged mobs. This horrific
scene was televised globally and prompted the U.S. to make a punishing,
retaliatory military assault upon Fallujah, causing widespread death
and destruction.

Just as the
American colonists despised the mercenary Hessians in the Revolutionary
War, Iraqis came to hate Blackwater and its kindred contractors
worse than U.S. soldiers, who often showed them kindness, according
to a journalist with experience in the war zone.

“It wasn’t
uncommon for an American soldier, or even an entire company, to
develop a very friendly relationship with an Iraqi community. It
didn’t happen every day, but it wasn’t unheard of,”
writes Ahmed Mansour, an Egyptian reporter and talk show host for
Qatar-based al-Jazeera, the Middle East TV network.

“It was
also definitely not uncommon to see American troops high-fiving
Iraqi teenagers, holding the arm of an elderly woman to help her
cross a street, or helping someone out of a difficult situation…This
was not the case with mercenaries. They knew they were viewed as
evil thugs, and they wanted to keep it that way.”

In his book
Inside
Fallujah
(Olive Branch Press), Mansour says, “Mercenaries
were viewed as monsters, primarily because they behaved monstrously.
They never spoke to anyone using words – they only used the
language of fire, bullets, and absolute lethal force. It was fairly
common to see a mercenary crush a small civilian Iraqi car with
passengers inside just because the mercenaries happened to be stuck
in a traffic jam.”

Mansour, best
known as host of the talk show “Without Limits,” says
his viewing audience was “outraged by the mere idea that a
political superpower like the United States would hire mercenaries
to do their unpleasant work instead of employing soldiers who believe
in their country and its mission. Viewers were also obviously outraged
over the horrendous war crimes committed by the mercenaries.”

Blackwater
was finally censured after its forces mowed down 17 civilians on
Sept. 16, 2007, in what Iraqi officials said was an unprovoked assault
in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, after which they refused to renew
its operating license. The Moyock, N.C.-based security outfit changed
its name to Xe Services and, according to The Nation magazine,
was still allowed to ink a $20 million renewal pact good through
Sept. 3rd, to guard State Department officials. Part of its work,
though, has been assumed by Triple Canopy, of Herndon, Va., a firm
also with a blemished history.

Triple Canopy
employs “private security guards (who) have allegedly targeted
Iraqi civilians for sport, attempting to kill them, while doing
work for Halliburton/KBR,” claims Pratap Chatterjee in his
book, Halliburton’s
Army
(Nation Books). Speaking of mercenaries as a group,
Brig. General Karl Hors, an advisor to the U.S. Joint Force Command,
once observed, “These guys run loose in this country and do
stupid stuff. There is no authority over them, so you can’t
come down on them when they escalate in force. They shoot people
and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all
over the place.”

On June 27,
2004, the day before L. Paul Bremer III, the administrator of the
Coalition Provisional authority, left Baghdad, he issued Order 17
that barred the Iraqi government from prosecuting contractor crimes
in domestic courts. Result: When the Iraq government probed Nisour
Square, it reported “the murder of citizens in cold blood in
the Nisour area by Blackwater is considered a terrorist action against
civilians just like any other terrorist operation.” As the
Associated Press reported last April 1, “The company does not
face any charges. But the Baghdad incident exacerbated the feelings
of many Iraqis that private American security contractors have operated
since 2003 with little regard for Iraqi law or life.” Baghdad
also charged Blackwater was involved in at least six deadly incidents
in the year leading up to Nisour Square, including the death of
Iraqi journalist Hana al-Ameedi.

By spring,
2008, there were 180,000 mercenaries operating in Iraq. How many
of them have been killed is not known. Their deaths do not appear
on Pentagon casualty lists. Since many perform non-combat duties,
it is not likely they have suffered as many deaths and wounds as
GI’s. By some estimates, perhaps 1,000 perished in Iraq, about
one mercenary for every four GI’s killed.

According to
Mansour, an Iraqi group, Supporters of Truth, claims that low-flying
U.S. helicopters dropped the bodies of slain mercenaries into the
Diyala River near the Iranian border. Another group, the Islamic
Army of Iraq, “uncovered mass graves for mercenaries who worked
for the U.S. forces…. He said uncovering mass graves of mercenaries
had become common in Iraq…” Whether these were local mercenaries
or imported fighters was not clear.

Many soldiers
of fortune on private payrolls previously served dictators in South
Africa, Chile, and elsewhere. “In Iraq, the private security
firms that are the second-large component of the ‘coalition
of the willing’ are dipping into experienced pools of trained
fighters, almost 70 percent from El Salvador, it is estimated, Noam
Chomsky writes in Failed
States
(Metropolitan/Owl). “The trained killers from
the Reagan-run state terrorist apparatus can earn better pay pursuing
their craft in Iraq than in what remains of their societies at home.”

Other mercenaries
have been recruited from the Iraqi population itself. Sociologist
James Petras, in his Rulers and Ruled in the U.S. Empire,
(Clarity Press) writes, “The use of local mercenaries creates
the illusion that Washington is gradually handing over power to
the local puppet regime. It gives the impression that the puppet
regime is capable of ruling, and propagandizes the myth that a stable
and reliable locally-based army exists. The presence of these local
mercenaries creates the myth that the internal conflict is a civil
war instead of a national liberation struggle against a colonial
power.”

Petras also
writes, “the failure of the US policy of using Iraqi mercenaries
to defeat the resistance is evident in the escalation of US combat
military forces in Iraq in the spring of 2007, after five years
of colonial warfare – from 140,000 to 170,000 troops, not counting
the presence of some 100,000 mercenaries from American firms such
as Blackwater.” He said the Iraqi mercenary force is plagued
by high levels of desertion.

In The
Sorrows of Empire
(Metropolitan/Owl), Chalmers Johnson wrote,
“The use of private contractors is assumed to be more cost-effective,
but even that is open to question when contracts go only to a few
well-connected companies and the bidding is not particularly competitive.”
Blackwater Security got a $27 million no-bid contract to guard L.
Paul Bremer III, the administrator of the Coalition Provisional
authority in 2003. According to Joseph Stiglitz in The
Three Trillion Dollar War
(W.W. Norton), that was expanded
to $100 million a year later and by 2007, Blackwater held a $1.2
billion contract for Iraq, where it employed 845 private security
contractors.

Stiglitz notes
that in 2007 private security guards working for firms like Blackwater
and Dyncorp were earning up to $1,222 a day or $445,000 a year.
By contrast, an Army sergeant earned $140 to $190 a day in pay and
benefits, a total of $51,100 to $69,350 a year.

Since U.S.
taxpayers are underwriting private soldiers’ paychecks, where’s
the savings? It is money from taxpayer’s pockets that has made
these shadow armies great.

In his bestseller
Blackwater:
The Rise of The World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army

(Nation Books) reporter Jeremy Scahill writes: “Its seven-thousand-acre
facility in Moyock, N.C., has now become the most sophisticated
private military center on the planet, while the company possesses
one of the world’s larget privately-held stockpiles of heavy-duty
weaponry. It is a major training center for federal and local security
and military forces in the United States, as well as foreign forces
and private individuals…. It is developing surveillance blimps
and private airstrips for its fleet of aircraft, which include helicopter
gunships.” Company officials say they have been training about
35,000 “law enforcement” and military personnel a year.

The idea of
the Pentagon outsourcing much of its work, from kitchen police to
war zone truck drivers, came largely from then Defense Secretary
Dick Cheney in the early 1990s, when he was tasked by Congress to
reduce Pentagon spending after the Cold War thawed. And after leaving
his Defense post to become CEO of Halliburton, Cheney also oversaw
the use of contractors to support the military then engaged in the
former Yugoslavia. As Pratap Chatterjee reminds in Halliburton’s
Army (Nation Books), “Approximately one in one hundred
people on the Iraqi battlefield in the 2001 Operation Desert Storm
were contractors, compared to today in Operation Enduring Freedom,
where the number of contractors are roughly equal to those of military
personnel.”

And since mercenaries
can work in civvies, they are useful to the Pentagon when it seeks
to build a military presence in a country without attracting undue
attention. As Scahill writes, “Instead of sending in battalions
of active U.S. military to Azerbaijan, the Pentagon deployed ‘civilian
contractors’ from Blackwater and other firms to set up an operation
that would serve a dual purpose: protecting the West’s new
profitable oil and gas exploitation in a region historically dominated
by Russia and Iran, and possibly laying the groundwork for an important
forward operating base for an attack against Iran.”

Scahill says
“Domestic opposition to wars of aggression results in fewer
people volunteering to serve in the armed forces, which historically
deflates the war drive or forces a military draft. At the same time,
international opposition has made it harder for Washington to persuade
other governments to support its wars and occupations. But with
private mercenary companies, these dynamics change dramatically,
as the pool of potential soldiers available to an aggressive administration
is limited only by the number of men across the globe willing to
kill for money. With the aid of mercenaries, you don’t need
a draft or even the support of your own public to wage wars of aggression,
nor do you need a coalition of ‘willing” nations to aid
you. If Washington cannot staff an occupation or invasion with its
national forces, the mercenary firms offer a privatized alternative
– including Blackwater’s 21,000-man contractor database….
If foreign governments are not on board, foreign soldiers can still
be bought.”

In Jan., 2008,
the UN working group on mercenaries found an emerging trend in Latin
America of “situations of private security companies protecting
transnational extractive corporations whose employees are often
involved in suppressing the legitimate social protest of communities
and human rights and environmental organizations of the areas where
these corporations operate.” And South Africa’s Defense
Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, termed mercenaries “the scourge of
poor areas of the world, especially Africa. These are killers for
hire. They rent out their skills to the highest bidder. Anybody
that has money can hire these human beings and turn them into killing
machines or cannon fodder.”

Mincing no
words, Ratner warns, “These kinds of military groups bring
to mind Nazi Party brownshirts, functioning as an extrajudicial
enforcement mechanism that can and does operate outside the law.”

Of course,
contract warrior firm officials see themselves in a nobler light.
Blackwater’s Vice-Chairman Cofer Black in one speech compared
his company to King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, asserting
they “Focus on morals and ethics and integrity. This is important.
We are not fly-by-night. We are not tricksters. We believe in these
things.” For all such claims, the final judgment on the performance
of contract military firms must come from the people these noble
knights purport to serve. And if Blackwater is any example, they
are hated.

September
2, 2009

Sherwood
Ross [send him mail] has
worked for major dailies and wire services and served in an executive
capacity in the U.S. civil rights movement. He currently is active
in the anti-war movement and operates a public relations firm for
good causes.

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