By Jeremy Scahill
As President Bush took the podium to deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday, there were five American families receiving news that has become all too common: Their loved ones had been killed in Iraq. But in this case, the slain were neither "civilians," as the news reports proclaimed, nor were they U.S. soldiers. They were highly trained mercenaries deployed to Iraq by a secretive private military company based in North Carolina — Blackwater USA.
The company made headlines in early 2004 when four of its troops were ambushed and burned in the Sunni hotbed of Fallouja — two charred, lifeless bodies left to dangle for hours from a bridge. That incident marked a turning point in the war, sparked multiple U.S. sieges of Fallouja and helped fuel the Iraqi resistance that haunts the occupation to this day.
Now, Blackwater is back in the news, providing a reminder of just how privatized the war has become. On Tuesday, one of the company's helicopters was brought down in one of Baghdad's most violent areas. The men who were killed were providing diplomatic security under Blackwater's $300-million State Department contract, which dates to 2003 and the company's initial no-bid contract to guard administrator L. Paul Bremer III in Iraq. Current U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who is also protected by Blackwater, said he had gone to the morgue to view the men's bodies, asserting the circumstances of their deaths were unclear because of "the fog of war."
Bush made no mention of the downing of the helicopter during his State of the Union speech. But he did address the very issue that has made the war's privatization a linchpin of his Iraq policy — the need for more troops. The president called on Congress to authorize an increase of about 92,000 active-duty troops over the next five years. He then slipped in a mention of a major initiative that would represent a significant development in the U.S. disaster response/reconstruction/war machine: a Civilian Reserve Corps.
"Such a corps would function much like our military Reserve. It would ease the burden on the armed forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them," Bush declared. This is precisely what the administration has already done, largely behind the backs of the American people and with little congressional input, with its revolution in military affairs. Bush and his political allies are using taxpayer dollars to run an outsourcing laboratory. Iraq is its Frankenstein monster.
Already, private contractors constitute the second-largest "force" in Iraq. At last count, there were about 100,000 contractors in Iraq, of which 48,000 work as private soldiers, according to a Government Accountability Office report. These soldiers have operated with almost no oversight or effective legal constraints and are an undeclared expansion of the scope of the occupation. Many of these contractors make up to $1,000 a day, far more than active-duty soldiers. What's more, these forces are politically expedient, as contractor deaths go uncounted in the official toll.
The president's proposed Civilian Reserve Corps was not his idea alone. A privatized version of it was floated two years ago by Erik Prince, the secretive, mega-millionaire, conservative owner of Blackwater USA and a man who for years has served as the Pied Piper of a campaign to repackage mercenaries as legitimate forces. In early 2005, Prince — a major bankroller of the president and his allies — pitched the idea at a military conference of a "contractor brigade" to supplement the official military. "There's consternation in the [Pentagon] about increasing the permanent size of the Army," Prince declared. 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."
And Prince is not just a man with an idea; he is a man with his own army. Blackwater began in 1996 with a private military training camp "to fulfill the anticipated demand for government outsourcing." Today, its contacts run from deep inside the military and intelligence agencies to the upper echelons of the White House. It has secured a status as the elite Praetorian Guard for the global war on terror, with the largest private military base in the world, a fleet of 20 aircraft and 20,000 soldiers at the ready.
From Iraq and Afghanistan to the hurricane-ravaged streets of New Orleans to meetings with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about responding to disasters in California, Blackwater now envisions itself as the FedEx of defense and homeland security operations. Such power in the hands of one company, run by a neo-crusader bankroller of the president, embodies the "military-industrial complex" President Eisenhower warned against in 1961.
Further privatizing the country's war machine — or inventing new back doors for military expansion with fancy names like the Civilian Reserve Corps — will represent a devastating blow to the future of American democracy.
Wed April 25
7:00 - 11:00 p.m
St. Marks Church
3809 E. 3rd St
Thursday April 26th
Santa Barbara, CA
Isla Vista Theater 7PM
960 Embarcadero Del Norte
Saturday April 28
Oakland, CA, 7:30PM
First Congregational Church
2501 Harrison St.
Sun April 29
Los Angeles, CA
LA Times Book Festival
2pm book signing
at Nation Books booth
Monday, April 30
Los Angeles, CA
Tues. May 1
San Diego, CA
Unitarian Church, 7PM
4190 Front Street
Wednesday, May 2
La Mesa, CA 7PM
La Mesa Community Center
4975 Memorial Drive
Thursday, May 3
Sacramento, CA 7pm
First United Methodist Church
Corner of 21st and J Street
Saturday, May 5
Fresno, CA 6PM
North Fork Town Hall
33507 Recreation Road
Sun May 6
Justice and Peace Institute
Chico State University
Monday May 7th
Republic of Boulder
Tuesday May 8th
Mercury Cafe 7PM
Wednesday, May 9
KUNM Event, 7PM
Outpost Performance Space
210 Yale SE
Thursday, May 10
Santa Fe, NM
Greer Garson Theater
College of Santa Fe
Friday, May 11
Minneapolis, MN, 7PM
Details to come
***More dates and details to come***
It was the moment the war turned: On March 31, 2004, four Americans were ambushed and burned near their jeeps by an angry mob in the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah. Their charred corpses were hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River. The ensuing slaughter by U.S. troops would fuel the fierce Iraqi resistance that haunts occupation forces to this day. But these men were neither American military nor civilians. They were highly trained private soldiers sent to Iraq by a secretive mercenary company based in the wilderness of North Carolina.
Meet Blackwater USA, the powerful private army that the U.S. government has quietly hired to operate in international war zones and on American soil. Its contacts run from deep inside the military and intelligence agencies to the upper echelons of the White House. Blackwater is the elite Praetorian Guard for the “global war on terror,” with its own military base, a fleet of twenty aircraft, and 20,000 private contractors at the ready. Run by a multimillionaire Christian conservative who bankrolls President Bush and his allies, its forces are capable of overthrowing governments, and yet most people have never heard of Blackwater.
This book is the unauthorized story of the epic rise of one of the most powerful and secretive forces to emerge from the U.S. military-industrial complex. It traces Blackwater’s beginnings in 1996, with visionary executives opening a private military training camp “to fulfill the anticipated demand for government outsourcing”; to its secret deployment in Afghanistan following 9/11; to the blood-soaked streets of Fallujah and a fierce gun battle in Muqtada al-Sadr’s stronghold of Najaf. The story races from Blackwater’s expedition to the oil-rich Caspian Sea to set up a military base miles from Iran; to New Orleans, where its forces patrolled the hurricane-ravaged streets; to the chambers of power in Washington, D.C., where Blackwater executives are welcomed as new heroes in the war on terror. The administration hails Blackwater as a revolution in military affairs; others see its rise as nothing less than a dire threat to American democracy.
“Jeremy Scahill’s exposé of the Blackwater mercenary firm forcefully demonstrates the grave dangers of outsourcing the government’s monopoly on the use of force.”
--Joseph Wilson, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
“Jeremy Scahill skillfully chronicles the birth of America's frightening Praetorian Guard, one that has been unleashed--25,000-strong--in Iraq. These hired guns, with their black uniforms and automatic weapons, appeared on the streets of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. They operate, at home and abroad, beyond the bounds of legal constraints and are controlled by secretive puppet masters, such as Erik Prince, who have close ties to the radical Christian Right. Should our nation enter a period of instability following another terrorist attack on American soil, an economic collapse or a series of environmental disasters the tyranny that groups such as Blackwater impose on others could become the tyranny they impose on us. The rise of this unchecked mercenary force, as Scahill understands, could presage the final stage in the collapse of American democracy.”
--Chris Hedges, former New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief
“If the Republicans lose in 2008, they will leave office armed and dangerous. Blackwater is the utterly gripping and explosive story of how the Bush Administration has spent hundreds of millions of public dollars building a parallel corporate army, an army so loyal to far right causes it constitutes nothing less than a Republican Guard. The most important and chilling book about the death throes of U.S. democracy you will read in years and a triumph of investigative reporting.”
--Naomi Klein, author No Logo
"Of all the insane Bush privatization efforts, none is more frightening than the corporatizing of military combat forces. Jeremy Scahill admirably exposes a devastating example of this sinister scheme."
--Michael Moore, Academy Award Winning Director
This engrossing investigative piece exposing, in shocking detail, a U.S. government-outsourced Frankenstein replete with helicopter gun ships may leave you incredulous. But you better believe it, for it poses a grave and gathering danger to the future of our Republic."
--Ray McGovern, CIA veteran and former intelligence briefer for George H. W. Bush
“In this terrifying and thrillingly written book, Jeremy Scahill introduces us to the shape of things to come, and to the kind of people and corporations who are likely to govern our lives if we don't do something about it pretty quickly.”
--Arundhati Roy, author The God of Small Things
“Jeremy Scahill's comprehensive research and reporting lifts the veil off the ever-tightening relationship between the federal government and unaccountable private military corporations such as Blackwater USA. . . .”
--U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
"From Belgrade to Baghdad, from Nigeria to New Orleans, Jeremy Scahill leads a new generation of muckraking journalists. With trademark courage and conviction, Scahill is exposing the dark, violent and secretive world of the neo-mercenaries Washington is increasingly deploying in its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and at home in the US. This is an explosive book!"
--Amy Goodman, Host, Democracy Now!