Blackwater: bulging biceps fueled by ideological purity
Floyd J. McKay / Guest columnist
BLACKWATER, the secretive private army now emerging into public view, is a perfect hinge linking two key elements of the Republican political base: America’s war machine and a muscular form of fundamentalist Christianity.
Military contractors such as Halliburton and Blackwater are the brainchild of Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. A major goal of Cheney when he was secretary of defense in the first Bush administration was to privatize as much military work as possible, ostensibly to make it more efficient. He commissioned a study by Halliburton, which predictably liked the idea and wound up as America’s largest military contractor. Cheney was hired as Halliburton’s chief officer, awaiting the return of a Republican administration.
When that occurred, Cheney and Rumsfeld enthusiastically promoted privatization, and went so far as to include private contractors in the “Total Force” of the American military, standing never before given to contractors. When Rumsfeld left the Pentagon in 2006, there were nearly as many private contractors in Iraq (100,000) as American troops (130,000). Contractors provided food, fuel, housing and, in the case of Blackwater, heavily armed soldiers with a license to kill and an aggressive attitude.
Blackwater operated basically without oversight since proconsul Paul Bremer gave it a no-bid $27.7 million security contract in 2003, with immunity from Iraqi law. In 2004, four of its soldiers were ambushed in Fallujah and their bodies desecrated, bringing retaliation that killed hundreds of Iraqis, leveled the city and fueled the insurgency. A month ago, Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians, in an incident that has drawn the attention of Congress and the FBI.
Blackwater soldiers, often with Navy SEAL or Army Special Operations backgrounds, are paid from $500 to $1,500 a day, far more than regular-duty troops. Their image is straight from central casting: young men, tanned biceps bulging from black T-shirts, wearing wraparound sunglasses and brandishing automatic weapons. For young veterans who loved military action but couldn’t afford to stay in, Blackwater offered big money and plenty of opportunities to order people around. Blackwater’s aggressive guards became the image of American cultural insensitivity, sometimes erasing the best efforts of our uniformed soldiers.
Blackwater is the private empire of billionaire Erik Prince, a major Republican fundraiser and bankroller of several fundamentalist Christian organizations. His private army employs some 2,300 active gunners and boasts a register of 21,000 ready to serve on call. He has the largest privately held arsenal in the country and the expertise and firepower to bring down a small country.
In 2006, Prince expanded internationally, forming a new subsidiary in Barbados, outside American taxes and regulation, to train foreign forces, often funded by American military aid. Elite Blackwater soldiers have conducted secretive “black jobs” for the CIA or other spy agencies.
Despite its financial success, Blackwater is under fire from two sides: Democratic critics who want accountability and families of the four men killed in Fallujah in 2004. The families have sued, alleging negligence.
Blackwater’s lawyers assert it cannot be sued because it is part of the “Total Force.” But, while Congress demands that it be subject to American military codes and international treaties, Blackwater takes the opposite view — it is not military, it’s a civilian contractor. Big money has gone into D.C. lawyers, lobbyists and public-relations spinners to sell this apparent contradiction.
There have always been mercenaries, and a case can be made for limited use of contractors, but the Bush administration has erased the line between a national military and a private war machine. Iraq is our first outsourced war, siphoning billions of taxpayer dollars into the private war machine.
Military contractors have become an integral part of the American military, allowing the White House to understate troop numbers and avoid a military draft. Unpopular wars for oil or ideology can be waged without calling on middle-class families to send their children; mercenaries will fill the jobs if volunteers don’t come forth.
In Prince, the Republicans’ radical Christian base is wed to the war-machine base, the one providing votes and manpower, the other providing campaign funds.
The resulting combination is one of rigid ideology and eagerness to solve any problem with overwhelming force. The Bush administration convinced itself its views on Iraq were right, pushing aside contrary evidence, then failed to think beyond “shock and awe,” with resultant horrors.
In a world of nuance and gray areas, ideological purity and bulging biceps will cause as many problems as they solve. Blackwater seems to epitomize a dark side of our psyche that should be troubling to all Americans.
Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western Washington University, is a regular contributor to Times editorial pages. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FBI finds Blackwater Iraq shootings unjustified, report says
Associated Press, Wednesday November 14, 2007
The shootings of 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians killed by Blackwater security personnel in a September confrontation were unjustified and violated rules on the use of deadly force, according to a newspaper report.
Citing civilian and military officials briefed on the case, the New York Times reported on its website last night that the US justice department was reviewing the findings of the FBI, which was continuing to investigate the incident in Baghdad on September 16.
No evidence supported assertions by Blackwater employees that they were fired upon by Iraqi civilians, the Times reported.
It said the FBI had concluded that three of the deaths may have been justified under rules that allow lethal force in response to an imminent threat.
Investigators concluded that as many as five of Blackwater guards opened fire during the shootings, the newspaper said.
One guard has become the focus of the investigation, the Times reported, because that guard was responsible for several deaths.
A government official familiar with the investigation told the Associated Press that no conclusions had been reached about any of the fatalities. A US state department official said he was not aware that the department had been informed of any findings. Both requested anonymity because the investigation was continuing.
A Blackwater spokeswoman, Anne Tyrrell, said the company “supports the stringent accountability of the industry”.
She said: “If it is determined that one person was complicit in the wrongdoing, we would support accountability in that. The key people in this have not spoken with investigators.”
Blackwater has said its convoy was attacked before its personnel opened fire, but an Iraqi government investigation concluded that the shootings were unprovoked.
State department officials have said it has offered limited immunity to private security contractors involved in shootings in Iraq. They disagreed with law enforcement officials that such actions could jeopardise prosecutions in the September 16 incident.
State Dept official’s brother linked to Blackwater
By Susan Cornwell, Wed Nov 14, 2007 4:52pm EST
WASHINGTON, Nov 14 (Reuters) – The State Department’s top investigator recused himself on Wednesday from probes into the Blackwater security firm after discovering — during a break in a congressional hearing — that his brother was connected with the company.
Howard Krongard, who began a hearing of Rep. Henry Waxman’s government oversight committee by denying the “ugly rumors” that his brother “Buzzy” was linked to Blackwater, returned after a recess to say he had just contacted his brother and learned he had attended a Blackwater advisory board meeting.
“I had not been aware of that. And I want to state on the record right now that I hereby recuse myself from any matters having to do with Blackwater,” Krongard, who acts as an independent internal investigator for the State Department, told the panel.
Waxman’s committee is examining allegations by current and former officials in Krongard’s office that he thwarted probes into waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq, including alleged arms smuggling by Blackwater, which protects U.S. diplomats and other State Department officials in Iraq.
In September, the private security contractor denied it was involved in illegally shipping automatic weapons and military goods to Iraq after a report that federal officials were investigating.
The North Carolina firm is also under scrutiny after several violent incidents involving its contractors, including the shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians in a September incident. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that FBI agents found at least 14 of those shootings were unjustified.
Waxman, a California Democrat with a reputation for tenacity as an investigator, has charged Krongard with interfering in ongoing investigations to protect the State Department and White House from political embarrassment — a charge Krongard flatly denied.
“I have never impeded any investigation,” Krongard said, adding he had never worked in government before now, had no political ties and never met President George W. Bush.
Republicans belittled Waxman’s investigation, saying the only thing he might pin on Krongard was an abrasive management style.
But they admitted surprise at Krongard’s revelation his brother was in fact linked to Blackwater, after he started the hearing denying it.
“He has done you tremendous damage,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican.
Krongard seemed unfazed. “I’m not my brother’s keeper, and we do not discuss our business with each other,” he said.
A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard is a former executive director of the CIA. Howard Krongard is a former general counsel at Deloitte & Touche.
Krongard contacted his brother after Democratic lawmakers waved e-mails showing Blackwater had invited him to be on the company’s advisory board and attend a meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia, this week.
Several current and former staffers from Krongard’s office said he threatened investigators with retaliation if they cooperated with Waxman’s probe. Krongard is also accused of telling the staff not to cooperate with the Justice Department, and impeding investigations into alleged arms smuggling by Blackwater and construction problems with a massive new U.S. embassy in Baghdad.