How’s that Name-Change Working Out?
Back in 2007, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced Senate Bill S 2398, the Stop Outsourcing Security Act. It collected a single co-sponsor, Senator Hillary Clinton.
The crux of the bill:
The use of private security contractors for mission critical functions undermines the mission, jeopardizes the safety of American troops conducting military operations in Iraq and other combat zones, and should be phased out.
It went nowhere.
Back in the heat of the presidential campaign, in February 2008, Senator Clinton said that:
“…from this war’s very beginning, this administration has permitted thousands of heavily-armed military contractors to march through Iraq without any law or court to rein them in or hold them accountable. These private security contractors have been reckless and have compromised out mission in Iraq. The time to show these contractors the door is long past due.”
Indeed. And Clinton’s voice was not the only one raised against the damage done by mercenaries. A Congressional report found the same, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had tough words as well.
One of the main catalysts for those tough words was the company that now calls itself Xe but is still known to everyone as Blackwater. Although Blackwater’s contract for security work in Iraq was canceled after nearly five years of behavior that some might call scandalously reckless and I call bloodthirsty, the administration in which Clinton is now a key player has found itself unable to cut its ties to Blackwater. At a hearing last month of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, it was learned, as Justin Elliott reported at TPMuckracker, that Blackwater pre-qualified as one of the five companies to train Afghan police. It was learned too that Blackwater is the only company that handles security for State Department employees in Afghanistan. And it obviously has a security contract with the CIA for front line work in Afghanistan.
The question is why. Or, rather, what the hell? As if U.S. military interventions weren’t problematic enough, these cowboys still operate as if they were in some third-tier action movie. Not a low-budget one, however.
First came the news about Blackwater participating in CIA raids in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then a more than mildly perturbed judge ruled that the five company employees who had killed 17 civilians in Iraq couldn’t be tried because federal prosecutors had botched what should have been an airtight case against them by violating their constitutional rights. Then it was learned that two of the seven CIA operatives killed December 30 by a double-agent suicide bomber in Khost, Afghanistan, were Blackwater employees. Then it turned out that a third Blackwater employee was injured in the Khost bombing. Then two Blackwater employees were indicted for murdering two Afghans last May.
The news about the deaths at Khost sent Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, over the edge. She was launching an investigation she told Jeremy Scahill, a reporter at The Nation who has been following Blackwater since he began research for his outstanding 2008 book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Schakowsky said:
“The Intelligence Committees and the public were led to believe that the CIA was phasing out its contracts with Blackwater and now we find out that there is this ongoing presence. … Is the CIA once again deceiving us about the relationship with Blackwater?
“It’s just astonishing that given the track record of Blackwater, which is a repeat offender endangering our mission repeatedly, endangering the lives of our military and costing the lives of innocent civilians, that there would be any relationship,” Schakowsky said. “That we would continue to contract with them or any of Blackwater’s subsidiaries is completely unacceptable.”
Today, on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewed Scahill and Schakowsky. You can watch it, read the transcript at the link, or read the excerpt below:
JEREMY SCAHILL: … Let’s remember here that this was the worst attack on a CIA base that we know about since the 1980s. And here you have three Blackwater guys in the center of this blast at the time. Now, we’re not sure what the role was of the Blackwater guys there. That’s what Representative Schakowsky is investigating right now. But let’s say for a moment that they were doing security, because Blackwater has, since 2002, had a contract with the CIA to do force protection in Afghanistan for the CIA. They not only guard static outposts of the CIA, but when CIA operatives move around the country, Blackwater guys travel with them as their security.
So if they were doing the security there, and you have, on their watch, this incredibly devastating attack, not just against some random CIA outpost in the middle of Canada or something, but against the epicenter of the forward operating maneuvers that the intelligence community of the US is engaged in to hunt down Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, because this asset made it onto that base, we understand, claiming that he had just met with Ayman al-Zawahiri. So how is it that he walks in there with explosives? And then, I think that should be one of the things that’s investigated as Congresswoman Schakowsky takes this on.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Congresswoman Schakowsky, your concerns about this latest report and what you’re hoping to look into?
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: You know, regardless of what the role that the Blackwater operatives were playing in this incident, why is the CIA, why is any unit of the government, the State Department, the Department of Defense—why would anyone hire this company, which is a repeat offender, threatening the mission of the United States, threatening, endangering the lives of American, well, CIA and military, and then—and also known to threaten and kill innocent civilians? It is just amazing to me, astonishing to me, that we still find Blackwater anywhere in the employ of the United States government at any place around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, during the primaries, Hillary Clinton supported a ban on Blackwater. President Obama didn’t. How does that relate to what you’re introducing now, the legislation that you’re introducing?
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Look, I’m introducing legislation called Stop Outsourcing Our Security, and the idea of that is that when we have mission-sensitive activities, inherently governmental functions in battle zones around the world, that we should have only people that bear the stamp of the United States government. And that means that that would include no private military contractors at all in those operations.
Now, look, when we have a situation where you can question whether or not these contractors can get away with murder—after all, this case against those shooters at Nisoor Square has been dismissed—hopefully that there will be another effort by the Justice Department to go after these people, because it was dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct, which is true. I think there were many mistakes made. But right now, these contractors are in a legal limbo. And so, if these individuals can get away with murder, imagine—you don’t have to imagine, you know what it does to our relations with the Iraqi government and with governments around the world. And now you’ve got a situation where Germany is asking, what were Blackwater people doing in Germany?
Not just Blackwater. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, chairperson of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, pointed out in mid-December that from June 2009 to September 2009, there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan. In the same period, the number of armed private security contractors working for the Pentagon in Afghanistan doubled, to more than 10,000.
I suspect that the Stop Outsourcing Our Security legislation has no more chance of passing in 2010 than it did in 2007-08. That’s not merely troubling, it’s infuriating. Because whatever you think of U.S. policy in Afghanistan – and I think the White House is on the wrong track and we’ll all soon come to regret it – who can doubt that these private armies are a serious danger, and not just to U.S. “interests and image” abroad, but, quite possibly in the not-too-distant future, to citizens at home.