blogenlust
12.07.2004

Rumsfeld's Greatest Hits: Private Military Corporations


Speaking of Rumsfeld, we often hear that one of his biggest wet dreams is to transform the military into a leaner fighting force, but we don't usually hear how he is actually going about doing it. At first glance, it sounds counterintuitive--we're already short of troops, why would we want to have even fewer? It's an honest question, but it fails to understand the culture of corporate greed that has seeped its way into the highest offices of the Pentagon. One of the things that Rumsfeld has done is increase the US military's reliance on private military corporations, which provide non-combat services like security, logistics, and training. In the past, the military was primarily responsible for these services, but over the course of the last few years, we've passed the buck, via contracts, to huge multi-national corporations. Iraq and Afghanistan have been the mother-of-all contracts for these companies because of all the work that needs to be done, and the lack of US military to do it. Now, I know next to nothing about business, but I do know that when you introduce a profit-seeking element into an area where it was previously lacking, and throw in a lack of oversight and accountability, corruption is nearly certain. And guess what? It's exactly what's happening. The market for these PMC's is booming, and nobody has a really good idea how much the companies are pulling in, but it is definitely in the billions. Unlike other sectors of the economy, PMCs can hardly employ people fast enough. Of course, as you might expect, this leads to some problems. In the latest issue of Mother Jones, Barry Yeoman details the types of people these corporations are hiring to keep up with demand:
To an unprecedented degree, the United States and its allies have turned to private companies to fill tens of thousands of jobs once performed only by soldiers, from prison interrogators to bodyguards for high-ranking officials. Several of these companies have even engaged in firefights as part of their work. To Iraqis, the corporate guards are often indistinguishable from U.S. troops, with whom they often cooperate. Yet there is one key difference between the contract soldiers and U.S. troops: With pressure to quickly fill thousands of jobs, many companies have recruited former police officers and soldiers who engaged in human rights violations -- including torture and illicit killings -- for regimes such as apartheid South Africa, Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, and Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslavia. Some of these firms perform only cursory pre-employment screening, if any -- making it easy for those with questionable backgrounds to slip through unnoticed. “There is no interest on the part of many firms to do background checks,” says Marco Nicovic, an attorney in Serbia who serves as vice president of the International Bodyguard and Security Services Association. “For men who are wanted and have arrest warrants, Iraq is a way out. It’s easier, safer for them to start clean there.”
What is left unsaid in all of this is that we, the US taxpayers, are paying their salaries at a cost that is probably higher than what it would take to enlarge the military. And say you were about to leave the military (as if they'd let you), and you had the choice to re-enlist or get paid 10x more and work for a PMC, what would you do? Clearly, there are many concerns associated with the use of PMCs, but perhaps the biggest in my book is, as Yeoman writes, "To Iraqis, the corporate guards are often indistinguishable from U.S. troops, with whom they often cooperate." In other words, if you've got ex-Pinochet henchman running around in Iraq without any accountability for their actions, they're bound to do something that will hurt our image (if it is even possible anymore) in the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. It doesn't even matter to an Iraqi whether they are contractors or aren't even American--they look like, are armed like, and are employed by the United States. The Arab world won't take its anger out on Blackwater or DynCorp. They will, and do, take it out on us. Finally, it adds to the growing list of contradictions filed under "Do As We Say, Not As We Do" a.k.a. The Abu Ghraib Rule. That is, it is silly for us to complain about the illegality of insurgents posing as civilians or not dressed in official military gear if we are going to employ non-military personnel to work alongside our own military. In this sense, our confusion, is equally their confusion.