Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blackwater by Jeremy Scahill

Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army [Revised and Updated]"Old Blackwater, keep on slayin', Good old Uncle Sam gonna keep on payin'..."

I recommended yesterday's book, Tulia, for those who like to get outraged.   Today's book, Blackwater, should probably not be read by such people, as it will likely lead to so much outrage that the results will include vomiting, uncontrollable weeping, and paralytic strokes.  Yes, my friends, we have finally located the Heart of Darkness, and it's in North Carolina.* 

Or possibly in Holland, Michigan, where Blackwater's founder, Erik Prince, was born and raised in an insular community of Dutch Calvinists, who came to America to escape religious persecution.  (I should note here, as a person of Dutch extraction myself, that whenever people from Holland are fleeing their homeland due to religious persecution, it means that they are more conservative and intolerant than the people they're fleeing from.  For more info on this, see the history of South Africa.

Prince really was a prince in this backward kingdom, because his father, Edgar, was definitely the king.  Edgar made a billion-dollar fortune, based on his development of the auto sunshade vanity mirror (Note - vanity is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.)  When Edgar died in 1995, Erik decided to renounce his career as a Navy SEAL, and returned home to take over the family business.  His tenure didn't last long as long as his father's, though; he sold the company for $1.6 billion a year later.

What did the little Prince do with this money?  He plowed it into an assortment of far right-wing political and religious activist groups, for a start, and then he created Blackwater, a private training base for military and law enforcement personnel.  Located on 6,000 acres in the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina (yes, that's actually what it's called), Blackwater started out as a relatively simple endeavor; sort of a giant shooting range, only more luxurious.

Within a few years, though, events such as the Columbine massacre raised Blackwater's profile, positioning the company to take advantage of the big enchilada - 9/11.  Suddenly, Prince was thrust into the world of no-bid government contracts; a world he was well equipped to move in, considering his many connections to the Administration's new right-wing, theocratic overlords.  By the time of the Iraq war, Blackwater was on its way to becoming the premier contractor providing training, firearms, and private security to the occupation force.

By private security, of course, we mean mercenaries.  Thanks to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld's new leaner, meaner, stupider Pentagon policies, the United States military was "outsourcing" many of its military missions, including training, supply, and occasionally, killing people.  Blackwater happily took up the slack, contracting for hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Adding a profit motive to war is like taking coals to Newcastle; there are already plenty there.  But Blackwater (and its later imitators like Triple Canopy and Erinys) took the practice of war profiteering out of the shadows and into the murky dusk of a new era.  Unfortunately, in their zeal for growing their new business, they often failed to live up to the standards of the armed forces they were supposed to replace.

Like, for instance, when they sent four of their private warriors through the most dangerous city in Iraq in March of 2004, armed only with light weapons in a couple of stock SUVs.  Of course, Blackwater's supply contract (which may, or may not have been subcontracted through Haliburton) called for at least three men in each heavy machine gun equipped, armored vehicle, not two men in each unarmored SUV. 

Also, in its haste to move a convoy of vitally needed kitchen utensils through Fallujah, the company also neglected to conduct a risk analysis or provide an adequate map of the chosen route (along which Iraqi insurgents were successfully holding heavily armed Marines at bay).  End result - four contractors shot, dismembered, burned and strung up on the girders of a bridge, an event recorded on video, heavily televised, and subsequently used by the Bush Administration as an excuse for a disastrous crackdown on the city.

Other Blackwater innovations included hiring mercenaries from former right-wing Chilean and Honduran "death squads" (at a considerable discount over domestic stormtroopers),  unprovoked shootings of unarmed civilians, and private air taxis used for "extraordinary rendition".  Fortunately, the company maintained that it was under the authority of the US military, without being restricted by its rules of engagement or legal jurisdiction, and thus couldn't be sued or held accountable by... well, anyone.  More recently, however, Federal judges have failed to appreciate the inspired logic of this position.  Lawsuits are plentiful.

So, during the time that the Bush Administration's occupation of Iraq spiraled down into catastrophe, Blackwater made hundreds of millions of dollars in fees, all the while glorifying "free market capitalism", as well as "Christian principles".  Politicians and fundamentalists nationwide lined up to praise a corporation with all the moral rectitude of  Benito Mussolini.  And Erik Prince announced the company's expansion into new enterprises, such as creating staffed "private military bases" in corrupt oil-exporting nations like Azerbaijan.

I really don't have much to say about Scahill's writing ability - it's certainly competent and well-researched.  But any stylistic concerns are all but eclipsed by the steadily mounting horror of the content itself.  Blackwater, he makes very clear, is Ground Zero for the monumental clusterfuck of greed, arrogance, incompetence, and pure evil that defines the Iraq war, and the political/religious movement that created it.
I honestly can't say I loved reading this book - I was nearly overwhelmed by rage and nausea at several points.  But if you don't already know all the details of this shadowy threat to liberty, justice and common sense, you probably should.  The Democrats may be in the driver's seat for now, but their perch is precarious.  Blackwater, and the people who allowed it to thrive, are still around... and they're just waiting for another turn.

*(Grammatical note - I have just confirmed that the apostrophe in "it's" is valid only for the contraction of "it is" and not for the possessive form.  In previous posts I have not used the apostrophe in either case, out of confusion and laziness.  But I have, with great effort, reformed myself, thus bringing more enjoyment to you, the home viewer. And many thanks to the "Its vs. It's" webpage - give it a look!

1 comment: