Mercenaries cast dark shadows on U.S. democracy


When years ago Consolidation Coal, Ford Motor Co. and U.S. Steel created their own private armies, including Pinkertons, to keep the word “profits” always followed by the verb “skyrocketing,” and to keep workers under their control and the union out, no one dreamed that in the 21st century the privatization of the U.S. military would be on the political agenda.

But that’s what is happening, and Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalist, shows us how it’s being done in his new book “Blackwater.” By following the Blackwater company from Iraq to post-Katrina New Orleans, he carefully and thoughtfully details the rise and flourishing of private security firms in the U.S. today. He also paints a picture of a trend that is menacing to democracy as we know it.

As of this writing, with the “surge” underway, there continues to be an almost 1-to-1 ratio of actual U.S. troops and “contractors” engaged in combat. U.S. troops are estimated at about 150,000 and “contractors” like Blackwater’s thugs at 100,000.

In 2006, Scahill says, 7,200 British troops were active in Iraq, but 21,000 employees of private British security companies were tasked to military operations.

Blackwater has not confined itself to recruiting former Navy SEALS or other killers whose training has been funded by U.S. taxpayers. It has reached out and hired former torturers from South America. Some Blackwater hires, for example, had been out of work since the demise of Chile’s Pinochet regime.

Others Blackwater employees are Colombians trained by the SEALS or the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Privatization being what it is, after the Colombians were first told they would be paid $7,000 a month, their pay fell to $4,000 a month, then to $2,700 a month and finally, $34 a day for operations in Iraq.

Former Chilean political prisoner and torture victim Tito Tricot says that while the U.S. has used experienced military personnel from countries governed by military dictatorships in earlier conflicts, “There is something deeply perverse about the privatization of the Iraq war and the utilization of mercenaries.”

“This externalization of services or outsourcing,” he says, “attempts to lower costs — ‘Third World’ mercenaries are paid less than their counterparts from the developed world — and maximize benefits, i.e. ‘Let others fight the war for the Americans.’ In either case, the Iraqi people do not matter at all. It is precisely this dehumanization of the ‘enemy’ that makes it easier for the private companies and the U.S. government to recruit mercenaries.”

This is an important book. Readers should buy copies for their representatives in Congress, especially if they were swept into office last year like Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Robert Casey, who just voted for the $100 billion supplemental appropriation for the Iraq war.

“Blackwater” pulls back the curtain on the dirty no-bid contracts and chronicles the links between multinational oil corporations, the Bush administration and the religious right. It is a must-read, it is a clear read and one that recharges batteries to boot this rotten, murderous administration out. It arms readers and voters to confront their current representative or their favorite candidate to take our country back from the gangsters.


Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army
By Jeremy Scahill
Nation Books, March 2007
Hardbound, 452 pp., $26.95