My name is Jeremy Scahill. I have submitted my full remarks and request they be entered into the record. I am an investigative reporter for The Nation magazine and the author of the book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. I have spent the better part of the past two and a half years researching privatized warfare. I have interviewed scores of sources, filed many Freedom of Information Act requests, obtained government contracts and private company documents of firms operating in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
As this Committee is well aware, we are now in the midst of the most privatized war in the history of our country. This is hardly a new phenomenon, but it is one that has greatly accelerated since the launch of the “global war on terror” and the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Many Americans are under the impression that the US currently has about 145,000 active duty troops on the ground in Iraq. What is seldom mentioned is the fact that there are at least 126,000 private personnel deployed alongside the official armed forces. These private forces effectively double the size of the occupation force, largely without the knowledge of the US taxpayers that foot the bill.
But despite the similarity in size of these respective forces in Iraq, there are key differences with the way our government approaches the active-duty military and these private war contractors. For instance, we know that nearly 3,400 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq and more than 25,000 wounded. We do not know the exact number of private contractors killed or wounded. Through the US Department of Labor, we have been able to determine that at least 770 contractors had been killed in Iraq as of December 2006 along with at least 7,700 wounded. These casualties are not included in the official death count and help to mask the human costs of the war. More disturbing is what this means for our democracy: at a time when the administration seems unwilling to subject its war strategy to oversight by the Congress, we face the widespread use of private forces seemingly accountable to no effective system of oversight or law.
While tens of thousands of these contractors provide logistical support, thousands are heavily armed private soldiers roaming Iraq. We do know that there are some 48,000 employees of private military companies in Iraq alone.
These forces work for US companies like Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp as well as companies from across the globe. Some contractors make in a month what many active-duty soldiers make in a year. Indeed, there are private contractors in Iraq making more money than the Secretary of Defense and more than the commanding generals. The testimony about private contractors that I hear most often from active duty soldiers falls into two categories: resentment and envy.
They ask what message their country is sending them. While many soldiers lack basic protective equipment–facts well-known to this committee–they are in a war zone where they see the private soldiers whiz by in better vehicles, with better armor, better weapons, wearing the corporate logo instead of the American flag and pulling in much more money. They ask: Are our lives worth less?
Of course, there are many cases where war contractors have hoarded the profits at the top and money has not filtered down to the individual contractors on the ground or the armor to protect them.
The second reaction is that the active-duty soldiers see the “rock star” private contractors and they want to be like them. So we have a phenomenon of soldiers leaving active duty to join the private sector.