10 October, 2007
By Anwaar Hussain
So what are these Blackwater operatives? Peace keepers, law enforcers or dogs of war, armed goons? Or are they the new Stasi?
KÄlÄ PÄnÄ«, literally ‘Black water’ in Urdu/Hindi languages, a term for the deep sea and hence exile, was the name of a notorious cellular jail situated in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (India). The prison was known to house many notable Indian activists during the struggle for India’s independence. In March 1868, 238 prisoners tried to escape. By April they were all caught. One committed suicide and of the remainder, British Superintendent Walker ordered 87 to be hanged.
On the U.S. mainland, the Blackwater River of Florida is a 58-mile long river arising in southern Alabama and flowing through the Florida Panhandle to the Gulf of Mexico. The river enters Florida in Okaloosa County and flows through Santa Rosa County to Blackwater Bay, an arm of Pensacola Bay. The river passes through Blackwater River State Park.
There is yet another blackwater river in North Carolina that goes by the name of White Oak River. The White Oak River is located in North Carolina’s outer coastal plain province in Carteret, Jones, and Onslow Counties.
Also in the U.S. state of North Carolina is a private military company, the Blackwater USA. It is a self-described private military company and security firm founded in 1997 by Messrs. Erik Prince and Al Clark. Blackwater operates a tactical training facility that it claims is the world’s largest. The company trains more than 40,000 people a year, from all the military services and a variety of other agencies.
Blackwater is currently the largest of the U.S. State Department’s three private security contractors deployed in Iraq. At least 90% of its revenue comes from government contracts, two-thirds of which are no-bid contracts. The cost for each Blackwater guard, a foot soldier, in Iraq is estimated to be around $445,000 per year, more than twice that of a U.S. General’s salary with 26 years of service.
On September 16, 2007, more than 20 Iraqis were shot at by Blackwater employees on an intersection in Nisoor Square, Baghdad. At least 11 were killed, including a mother and her child in an automobile. On September 23, 2007, the Iraqi government said that it expects to refer criminal charges to its courts in connection with the Blackwater shooting.
Can the Iraqi government do that? Not really. Two days before he left Iraq, L. Paul Bremer signed “Order 17” giving all Americans associated with the CPA and the American government immunity from Iraqi law. That exemption still holds.
The company markets itself as being “The most comprehensive professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations company in the world”. In the international media, however, it has frequently been referred to as a mercenary group. The online thesaurus Encarta calls a mercenary a soldier of fortune, dog of war, soldier, legionnaire, freedom fighter, guerrilla etc. while the online Thesaurus.com calls a mercenary as acquisitive, avaricious, bribable, corrupt, covetous, grabby, grasping, miserly, money-grubbing, selfish, sordid, stingy, unethical, unprincipled, unscrupulous, venal etc.
So what are Blackwater operatives to be called, peace keepers, law enforcers or dogs of war, armed goons?
Let us decide.
Blackwater’s owner and founder is one Erik Prince. A former Navy Seal, Prince sold the idea of a “contractor brigade” at a military conference in early 2005. He said, “There’s consternation in the [Pentagon] about increasing the permanent size of the Army”. Officials “want to add 30,000 people, and they talked about costs of anywhere from $3.6 billion to $4 billion to do that. Well, by my math, that comes out to about $135,000 per soldier.” He added: “We could do it certainly cheaper.”
Prince is reported to have contributed $168,000 to the Republican National Committee since 1998, and has also supported the candidacies of conservatives such as President George W. Bush and Senator Tom Coburn etc. Cofer Black, the company’s current vice chairman, was the Bush administration’s top counter terrorism official when 9/11 occurred. Blackwater has become home to a significant number of former senior CIA and Pentagon officials. Robert Richer, formerly the head of the CIA’s Near East Division, became the firm’s Vice President of Intelligence immediately after he resigned his position as Associate Deputy Director of Operations in fall 2005.
Earlier this year, Erik Prince appeared before the House oversight committee. His demeanor suggested as though he were a general of US forces deserving rightful deference from run of the mill civilians. Prince simply dismissed any allegations of wrongdoing about Blackwater’s bloody trail in Iraq: “I believe we acted appropriately at all times.” His royal disdain for his congressional questioners was barely concealed. “If there’s two questions left,” he said, “I’ll take them and then let’s be done.”
Blackwater USA was formed in 1997 to provide training support to military and law enforcement organizations. In 2002 Blackwater Security Consulting (BSC) was formed. Blackwater has reportedly received no-bid government contracts of over one billion dollars so far.
In 2003, Blackwater attained its first high-profile contract: guarding the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Administrator L. Paul Bremer in Iraq, at the cost of $21 million for 11 months. Since June 2004, Blackwater has been paid more than $320 million out of a $1 billion, five-year State Department budget for the Worldwide Personal Protective Service, which protects U.S. officials and some foreign officials in conflict zones.
In 2006, Blackwater won the remunerative contract to protect the U.S. embassy in Iraq, which is the largest American embassy in the world. It is estimated by the Pentagon and company representatives that there are 20,000 to 30,000 armed security contractors working in Iraq, and some estimates are as much as 100,000, though no official figures exist.
For work in Iraq, Blackwater has drawn contractors from their international pool of professionals, a database containing “21,000 former Special Forces operatives, soldiers, and retired law enforcement agents,” overall. For instance, Gary Jackson, the firm’s president, has confirmed that Bosnians, Filipinos, and Chileans, “have been hired for tasks ranging from airport security to protecting Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority.”
According to The Age, Blackwater has been hiring mercenaries in Chile to replace its soldiers on security duty in Iraq many of whom had trained under the military government of Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean monster. “We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals” the president of Blackwater USA, Gary Jackson, said. Squads of Bosnians, Filipinos and Americans with Special Forces experience have been hired for various tasks. Their salaries can be as high as $US1000 a day, the news agency AFP recently reported. Erwin, a 28-year-old former US army sergeant working in Iraq, told AFP: “This place is a goldmine. All you need is five years in the military and you come here and make a good bundle.”
On Christmas Eve, 2006, a security guard of the Iraqi Vice-president, Adel Abdul Mahdi, was killed by one Andrew J. Moonen, a drunken Blackwater mercenary. Moonen left Iraq days after the killing, returning home to Seattle, Washington in the United States, where the United States Attorneys are investigating currently. The United States State Department and Blackwater USA had attempted to keep his identity secret.
In late May 2007, Blackwater contractors, “opened fire on the streets of Baghdad twice in two days… and one of the incidents provoked a standoff between the security contractors and Iraqi Interior Ministry commandos, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.” And on May 30, 2007, Blackwater employees shot an Iraqi civilian deemed to have been “driving too close” to a State Department convoy being escorted by Blackwater contractors.
On the whole, between 2005 and September 2007 Blackwater security staff was involved in 195 shooting incidents, in 163 of those cases Blackwater personnel fired first. 25 members of staff have been sacked for violations of Blackwaters drug and alcohol policy and 28 more for weapons related incidents.
Iraqi blood is cheap. That goes without saying. Rivers of it can be spilled. Americans are killing Iraqis, Iraqis are killing Iraqis. The mayhem goes on with no end in sight. But have the Americans imagined what would happen when the chickens finally come home to roost. Consider the Blackwater goon squad shooting at citizens of Washington DC who might accidentally get “too close” to a presidential motorcade. It may be recalled that Blackwater USA was deployed at New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The residents there were told by gun-toting guys dressed like Ninjas wearing “Blackwater” badges: “Try to go into your homes and we’ll arrest you.”
So what are these Blackwater operatives after all? Peace keepers, law enforcers or dogs of war, armed goons? Or are they the new Stasi?
Or have they, with the largest private military base in the world, a fleet of 20 aircraft and 20,000 gun-slinging soldiers at the ready, become the elite, rapidly deployable, avant-garde Praetorian Guard available to the highest bidder at the forefront of the global ‘war on terror’?
Copyrights : Anwaar Hussain