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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.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”