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Most Americans know that America has 160,000-plus soldiers in Iraq today; fewer know that this number is cruising upwards and will top 200,000 before the summer ends. And very few know that in addition to the uniformed service personnel, the “total force commitment,” to quote former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, includes some 100,000 military contractors. Some of those contractors perform the functions traditionally associated with camp-followers – cooks, entertainment, logistical support. But others perform core military functions. They are, in essence, contract soldiers – or, to use the disfavored but time-honored expression, mercenaries.
For years I have tracked accounts of violence involving the Bush administration’s private-contractor army in Iraq and Afghanistan. It can be placed generally in three folders: contractor-on-civilian violence (in Baghdad an everyday occurrence, and in Kabul an increasingly common occurrence); contractor-on-contractor violence (as the standoff I personally experienced in Baghdad on April 5, 2006 between two security contractor units); and contractor-on-military violence. The last of these three categories is the most disturbing in some respects because it highlights a sensitive fact: the military contractors are outside of the chain of military command and they frequently flout directions of the military. One U.S. officer in Iraq described a prominent military contractor to me as “jackasses with assault rifles,” and noted how they regularly disregarded instructions from field officers and skirted all efforts to hold them to account.
Sunday’s Washington Post has an important report which needs to be studied carefully. It records a series of incidents, still only hazily understood, in which employees of the highest profile of the contract soldier companies, Blackwater, fired on civilians in Baghdad and then became embroiled in a two-day firefight with the Iraqi Army. The account given exemplifies each of the issues surrounding contractors in Iraq that I outlined. And it presents a critical test for oversight for the U.S. Forces in Iraq. Can they look into and resolve this? Or are the contractors still shielded by their cronies in Washington?
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.
The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.
Average speed of Heinz ketchup, from the mouth of an upended bottle, in miles per year:
After studying the fall of 64,000 individual raindrops, scientists found that some small raindrops fall faster than they ought to.
The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”