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Historically, when the U.S. military deploys to a war zone, it sends roughly one contractor for every ten soldiers in uniform. But under George W. Bush this situation changed dramatically. The ratio between military contractors and soldiers in Iraq is roughly one-to-one. And the contractors are performing functions which are increasingly difficult to distinguish from the troops.
Journalist Jeremy Scahill has labeled Blackwater as America’s new “Praetorian Guard.” He focuses on its revolving door relationship with the Bush Administration, and the role the administration has taken in actually peddling the company and its services to friendly governments. The families of four Blackwater employees who were killed in an attack on a convoy in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004, brought suit against Blackwater in January 2005. Blackwater has attempted to block the suit all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. It hired former Whitewater Special Prosecutor Ken Starr to handle the matter for it. And it lost all the way up the line.
Now, The Virginian-Pilot’s Bill Sizemore, who has done an excellent series of reports on Blackwater, notes that the contractor has achieved a victory of sorts. The court litigation has been stopped and the claims have been referred to an arbitration panel, one of whose three members has close personal ties to Blackwater. The case is important for several reasons, notably as it tests Blackwater’s claims of immunity and will determine what liability private military contractors face when their employees are killed or injured in a warzone.
A successful wrongful-death suit could set a precedent for holding companies liable when their contractors are wounded or killed on the battlefield.
In a largely invisible cost of the war in Iraq, hundreds of civilian contractors have been killed and thousands wounded doing jobs that would have been handled by U.S. military personnel in previous wars. A report Friday in The New York Times said at least 917 contractors have been killed.
This issue has not received the attention that it deserves. Indeed, it’s increasingly clear that there has been a concerted effort to obscure relations between the Bush Administration and a number of contractors, and the Blackwater case is among the most striking.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:
A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.
Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”