BLACKWATER: GUNS FOR HIRE
St. Petersburg, Fla.
Thanks for Jeremy Scahill's April 2 cover story, "Shadow Army: How Blackwater Became Part of Bush's War Machine." That may well be the big sticking point with the troop pullout. Blackwater has all those contracts locked in. With our troops out of Iraq what happens to Blackwater USA?
What disturbs me most about contractors fighting the war is how it dilutes the fatality totals. I get my death totals from icasualties.org, which has a contractor death total of 155. Jeremy Scahill's article says 700, which, with the totals from Iraq and Afghanistan, would put the total "war on terror" US death tally well above 4,000. Why doesn't the damned "liberal" media report that?
San Jose, Calif.
Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights sums up my thoughts: "Mercenaries make wars easier to begin and to fight--it just takes money and not the citizenry." Most Americans will feel little urgency to oppose a war being fought by people who were hired, not enlisted or drafted.
I worked for Blackwater in Butte, Louisiana, and have worked for several other private organizations. I not only served my country during Vietnam but have twenty-eight years in law enforcement. I worked the meanest streets in Los Angeles: Compton. I was a member of the SWAT team and a special felony unit. I have worked every assignment in the profession. My last assignment was as commander of a special unit called the Judicial Protective Unit. I found Jeremy Scahill's article to be disgusting and very unprofessional. The team members I worked with were of the highest caliber. We did not stand around and brag or tell outrageous inflated stories. Blackwater was run as a very professional paramilitary close-knit group. We worked long hours on protection and also helped the citizens in the community. I deeply resent the suggestion that Blackwater is nothing but a bunch of "mercenaries."
Capt. Richard Daniel, ret.
Jeremy Scahill's article on the private security contractor industry contains serious misrepresentations about my legislation to bring accountability to the industry (HR 369). Although I commend Scahill for shining a light on this important issue, he fails to characterize my bill accurately. Let me set the record straight.
First, Scahill claims my bill has no teeth to prosecute rogue contractors on the battlefield. On the contrary, and as I personally explained to Scahill, my bill would require the Federal Bureau of Investigation to establish a field investigative unit for this very purpose wherever private security contractors work side by side with the military. If Scahill knows of a better process for prioritizing such investigations, I would love to hear it.
Scahill also attempts to cast doubt on the intent of my bill by claiming it has the "strong endorsement" of the private military industry. That is certainly news to me. While I welcome support from all stakeholders, the only organization that has strongly endorsed my bill to date is Amnesty International. Perhaps the writer feels his critique of my bill need not be informed by the position of one of the most reputable human rights groups in the world.
Finally, Scahill attempts to deduce that my bill represents the interests of Blackwater simply because that company is headquartered in my home state of North Carolina. Aside from the fact that nearly 200 miles separate Blackwater from my Congressional district, I respectfully suggest that Scahill infuse a bit more substance into his critique. A deduction like that is akin to assuming that a football fan from New York City roots for the Bills. Give me a break.
A good reporter, before casting aspersions on a piece of legislation, might try reading the bill first--something Scahill seems not to have done. There is no hidden agenda in my legislation; in fact, I encourage anyone with interest to read it because it stands on its own merits as a responsible, viable, enforceable effort to rein in contracting abuse.
David E. Price
Member of Congress
That the subject of privatized warfare is breaking into the halls of Congress is a welcome development, and David Price is one of the few Representatives who have taken on this issue. Price's legislation will look great on paper and give the appearance of accountability, something the mercenary industry very much desires. Price says it is "certainly news to me" that the industry has strongly endorsed his legislation. Here are the facts: The mercenary trade association, the International Peace Operations Association (of which Blackwater is a leading member), has endorsed the expansion of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act--essentially Price's plan--since 2004. It continues to push for it and not the military court-martial system to be the law of the land. In fact, after an industry-sponsored forum with Price in February, the IPOA released a statement calling the expansion of MEJA "the most cogent approach to ensuring greater contractor accountability in the battle space." I question the mercenary industry's motives for this, not Price's. This support should give people pause.
Let's look at the broader picture: The US military has enough trouble policing the activities of 130,000 soldiers subject to the court-martial system. Is it realistic to believe that an FBI "field investigative unit" in Iraq, as Price proposes, is going to effectively monitor the activities of 126,000 contractors? Under Price's legislation, FBI agents are somehow going to be running around Iraq, perhaps the most dangerous war zone in the world, to track down private contractors who have committed crimes. Who will protect the investigators? How will evidence be gathered inside Iraq? Given that the government and military seem unable or unwilling to even count contractors, how will their activities be effectively monitored?
Moreover, in light of the recent US Attorney scandal, there are serious questions about the integrity of the Justice Department and the insertion of political agendas into investigations. How can we have faith that crimes in Iraq will be investigated, particularly if they involve personnel from politically connected companies like Blackwater and Halliburton? Also, this legislation would require even more US personnel to deploy in Iraq. Is this really the Democrats' best plan?
Tens of thousands--perhaps hundreds of thousands--of contractors have passed through Iraq since March 2003. Only two have been indicted for crimes, and neither was an armed contractor. (In fact, one was charged with possession of child porn on a computer at Abu Ghraib.) There have been no indictments of contractors for crimes against Iraqis, despite many credible reports of such abuses. Why?
Price challenges me to offer a better solution. I humbly submit the following: Until an effective system of oversight and law is implemented, the Bush Administration should not be permitted to deploy shadow armies of unaccountable contractors, thousands of whom are heavily armed and woefully unmonitored, in any war zone. This system benefits no one but the companies profiting from the war and the Administration, which uses them to mask the human toll of the occupation and escalate the conflict behind the backs of the American people. Price's legislation may have been born of the most sincere motives, but I think it will prove more effective as a tool for the PR-savvy mercenary industry than as a mechanism for enforcing laws and insuring accountability.
Representative Dennis Kucinich has called for a withdrawal of all US contractors from Iraq, saying they have become an "arm of the Administration and its policies." That may be the only effective action that could be taken. Unfortunately, Democrats seem to be ignoring contractors in their "withdrawal" plan. It may well be that there is no system that could oversee such a massive private army in a war zone like Iraq; that the use of such forces undermines US democracy and the sovereignty of other nations; that Congress will have to face the consequences of such radical privatization of the US war machine. It is time Congress focused on stopping the use of these forces by passing effective anti-mercenary legislation that will end the system that makes war profitable.
As for Capt. Richard Daniel, who worked for Blackwater in a "paramilitary close-knit group," I would simply let his words speak for themselves and refer readers to the US Constitution for further insight.
Women from Portland, Oregon, to Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, wrote in to bear witness to Ruth Rosen's March 12 "The Care Crisis." Single, married, daughters, mothers, grandmothers testified to the daily stress of trying to earn a living while caring for others.
I read "The Care Crisis" in vain for any mention of the role that men should play in the childcare and eldercare needs of our society. In this lengthy piece about what government and corporations should do, the sons and fathers are exempted from responsibility. Why is it a women's issue to begin with? Why do we automatically expect daughters to provide for ailing relatives and let sons off scot-free? Rather than blaming feminism and postfeminism for women's "time bind," why don't we demand that men do their fair share of family care? Until the notion that the care of children and the elderly is a women's issue is changed, there will be no solution to this crisis.
I was disappointed to be quoted only as a "young feminist" by Ruth Rosen, as I work with an organization, Redstockings Allies and Veterans, fighting for universal childcare, healthcare and paid parental leave. Redstockings is the women's liberation group of the 1960s that brought us the first abortion speak-out and the slogan Sisterhood Is Powerful. On March 8 they held a speak-out at the United Nations to expose and protest the myth that US women are the most liberated in the world, and to demand "social wage" programs for a more fair and democratic means of raising the next generation. Women can join us, and we can win this (www.womensliberation.org).
Glen Ridge, NJ
Ruth Rosen gets it right: Feminists in the 1960s and '70s knew we couldn't do it alone. As she describes the vision, men and women would share in raising children and in housework. And the government and business would support childcare. Many of us also envisioned a shorter workweek: not just flexible time but fewer hours on the job for everybody, enabling couples to raise kids themselves instead of having to delegate the job to childcare facilities.
It seemed a reasonable hope in 1970. For about a century and a half, the workweek had been getting shorter. My wife and I, both teachers, were able to be with our children a lot. We thought that in the future, most working people would have that opportunity. It hasn't worked out that way. The workweek has been getting longer and longer. Now even the hope that parents could raise their young children has been lost, and Rosen calls only for better childcare for overworked parents, not for less work and more chance to parent.
St. Cloud, Minn.
Wonderful article! But I wished it had talked more about the major reason Europe has good work-life policies and we don't: Europe bargains its work arrangements collectively, while here we all compete as individuals against each other trying to show we're the "ideal worker." Our long-hours culture is an environmental issue, a social justice issue, an issue that affects so many other progressive issues.
I've talked at length in a workshop I give about how collective action in Europe has brought Europeans shorter workweeks, longer vacations and better family leave. At the end of last year's workshop, a young woman asked, "What can I as an individual do about this?" As an individual. Sigh. I felt like beating my head against the nearest pillar. But I replied that she has lots of company in her generation and that if all of us acted together, we could change things.
Robert Putnam writes in Bowling Alone that when it comes to joining a union, young people may not so much resist the idea of "unions" as the idea of "joining." Please, if you are a young person who identifies with this article, join something! Find a candidate you can volunteer for or donate to who works on these issues. (They're out there, and they need your support.) Or join Moms Rising (momsrising.org). Read Ann Crittenden, Arlie Hochschild and Joan Williams. Read Ellen Galinsky, Jody Heymann and Jodie Levin-Epstein. Get informed, get active and get connected.
The idea that our only avenue for action is as individual consumers is propaganda we've been fed by the right wing since the Reagan years. We can do together what we can't do alone. Indeed, that's the only way we're going to get it done. Treating this as an individual's issue, or an individual family's issue, leads us nowhere.