Saturday, November 18, 2006


"Private companies are becoming significant players in conflicts around the world, supplying not merely the goods but also the services of war. Although recent well-publicized incidents from Abu Ghraib to Zimbabwe have shone unaccustomed light onto this new force in warfare, private military firms remain a poorly understood—and often unacknowledged—phenomenon."
~ Peter Singer, "Outsourcing War," Foreign Affairs.

I had written something a few weeks ago that I hadn't posted until now, because so many other things have been happening that I did not feel there had been time to bring up the subject of Private Military Contractors (or Private Military Corporations, see Sourcewatch). However, with the news that some American, and one Austrian, employees of Crecent Security Company--listed at the Sourcewatch link--have been abducted in Iraq, it seems as though the time has come to post this one.

Whoever wants to, can check Google News for the latest information on the news of the missing Crescent employees, but it seems that there is still a lot of confusion surrounding the event. However, a site linked to the extreme reight-wing Media Research Center slammed CNN on Friday for referring to the "contractors" as mercenaries.

Bear in mind that, unlike anyone at Media Research Center, I have seen these guys in South Kurdistan, lounging around outside the Mazî Market in Dihok and guarding their self-important clients in Hewlêr. The Başûrî call them what they are--mercenaries--and their armed presence is considered an insult to the honor of the Kurdish people and Kurdish hospitality. It goes without saying that hospitality encompasses the personal safety of guests.

The fact is, as you will see below, these employees of Private Military Contractors are mercenaries, and that brings up questions of accountability and oversight of mercenary forces by those governments that contract their services. In light of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, and all proposed Democratic changes to the act (see a post by, are these mercenaries an example of "unlawful combatants" in those countries where they operate? Check Wikipedia to get an idea of the confusion surrounding the legality of the term, "unlawful combatant". There is also a UN resolution against the use of mercenaries, commonly referred to as the UN Anti-Mercenary Convention.

Private military contracting companies, such as Blackwater USA, have been hiring mercenaries for Iraq from places like Chile and South Africa. More from the New Statesman.

For more on PMC's and the problems they pose, check "Corporate Mercenaries" and "Controlling the Corporate Mercenaries". PMC's have also been referred to by George McGovern and William Polk in their proposal for withdrawal from Iraq, from Harper's, with commentary on that from Dissident Voice, specifically:

The fifth step in the withdrawal plan deals especially with the large force of mercenaries "euphemistically known as 'Personal Security Detail'." There are about 25,000 of them hired by over thirty different private security "contractors." They will have to go, and they should go, because they are hated by the Iraqis and are basically unanswerable to anyone except their immediate bosses. Since they are all paid for by the American tax payers, "either directly or indirectly," it should be easy enough for the U.S. to get rid of them: "all we need to do is stop payment." This is, for the foreseeable future, a pipe dream. The U.S. is not going to stop payment to the private firms they have contracts with (what type of capitalism is that) and, even more importantly, the many big shots in the U.S. puppet government who have these mercenaries as their body guards don't look forward to having to depend on their fellow country men for their security.

With that, on to the post I had been saving:

I have something here for your consideration that isn't specifically Kurd-related, but it's an indicaton of a growing regional problem, and possibly a world-wide problem. That problem is Private Military Contractors (PMC)--the current favored euphemism for mercenaries. This mercenary outsourcing is big business and it's another indication of the fact that foreign policy is being driven by other defense contractors, aside from Lockheed Martin. Former military officers tend to be heavily involved in turning a few hundred million bucks from their glorified mercenary companies.

It looks like this problem got it's big break in Kosovo. Bearing in mind that the quote below comes from the PBS Frontline interview with Peter Singer, Director of the Project on US Policy Towards the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy, and that the Brookings Institution is an extreme right wing think-tank, we are still able to learn that the US government began outsourcing the military side of foreign policy in the Yugoslav war:

I was with an organization called International Peace Academy, which is a think tank that's affiliated with the U.N. And so we were looking at the military balance on the ground.

And one of the things that was striking, that was on everybody's lips there, and everybody was concerned about and surpris[ed] by, was that you had an American company made up of ex-colonels, ex-generals, etc., that was training one of the sides during the cease-fire period. And the result was that, arguably, the balance of power was being shifted in the entire region. It was being shifted by a company. And that was something that all of the way we understood war, the way we understood military strengths and etc., [we] just simply couldn't even comprehend. It didn't fit the model. …

[ . . . ]

You're talking about an industry that really didn't exist until the start of the 1990s. And since then, it's grown in size, in monetary terms to about $100 billion worth of revenue a year. In geographic terms, it operates in over 50 different countries. It's operated on every single continent but Antarctica.

It operates in poor states, rich states -- you know, the Saudi Arabias, the Congo-Brazzavilles. It operates in superpowers like United States -- we're the largest client of that industry; the Pentagon's entered into over 3,000 contracts with it in the last couple years -- to weak states, failed states, Sierra Leones, Liberias, Afghanistans of the world.

You can also think about it in terms of the wars that it's affected. It's been present in pretty much all the major wars we think about -- the Iraqs, etc. -- and many of the minor wars that most folks haven't even heard about that take place in these areas. They were operating in Sudan before most people even paid attention to it because of Darfur.

Another way to think about it has been the money that's been made in this industry. If you had owned stock in these companies on 9/11, the rest of your portfolio outside this industry went down. Most people's stock went down. On average, these guys went up 50 percent. A couple of them double, tripled, so it's been a pretty good payoff.

And the result has been like any other new industry, almost like an Internet-like boom, is that some of these companies have literally exploded in size and new companies have rushed in. And the big boys have also come in. So you've seen a lot of mergers and acquisitions.

At least read the rest of that interview to get an idea of what's going on and to be able to get an idea of where things are going (although I encourage you to explore the entire site and become acquainted with its contents). I found the comments on alleged American aversion to ongoing genocides particularly ironic. Telling, too, is the example of one small company that had 10 employees and was doing well under $1 million in business pre-9/11; after 9/11, they boomed to some 1400 employees and did more than $100 million in business.

This is an example of the bipartisan nature of mercenary outsourcing by American administrations. Another interesting thing to note is that those who were in positions of power and responsibility with regard to the conduct of the Yugoslav war are well represented in the defense industry, such as those at the helm of The Cohen Group--William Cohen, Marc Grossman, and Joe Ralston.

At the time, William Cohen was the Secretary of Defense, while Marc Grossman was the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs. Joe Ralston took over from Wesley Clark as NATO commander in 2000, probably a result of his failed appointment as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Revelations of Ralston's adulterous affair put the skids on that, in spite of Bill Cohen's overwhelming support for both Ralston and his appointment as head of the Joint Chiefs. After leaving public service, these three got together in The Cohen Group (TCG), a secretive lobby firm that helps to facilitate defense industry-related mega-deals between foreign governments and defense contractors.

Cohen also started a private equity firm, TCG Financial Partners which, according to the Washington Post, was supposed "to work on defense industry mergers and acquisitions," possibly in a way similar to The Carlyle Group:

Following the extraordinary success of the Washington-based Carlyle Group, which has built a private equity empire that's earned billions for its investors, a number of firms have lined up rosters of former government officials and high ranking military officers as they pursue companies that are in the national security business.

Carlyle, which ranked as the ninth largest Pentagon contractor from 1998 to 2003, has made billions of dollars by investing in the defense sector. A team of high-powered former Washington insiders, including Frank Carlucci, who served as secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, and James Baker, who served as George H. W. Bush's secretary of state, led its pursuit of defense deals. (See related report, "Investing in War.")

More than a half dozen companies are now following in the footsteps of Carlyle by signing up former high-ranking government and military officials as they try to make inroads into the Pentagon and the newly-created Homeland Security contracting business.

The blue-chip political talent these private equity firms have lured include five of the past nine defense secretaries, two secretaries of state, two national security chiefs, two CIA directors and dozens of distinguished retired military officials.

It would be interesting to know how involved these private equity firms are with the rise of PMC's.

If governments have a hard time trying to control the commission of war crimes by individual soldiers or groups of soldiers, what is the oversight on the private mercenary brigades? Does anyone honestly believe that former public and military officials--turned outsourcing whores--are going to jeopardize their bottom lines in order to obey theoretical niceties like laws of warfare or international human rights laws?

Consider how all of these same government/military officials have willingly, and with full knowledge, armed, trained, and jointly operated with TSK Gray Wolves, i.e. Ozel Timler/Ozel Hareket Timler, in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan. Consider how the same officials deliberately ignored and successfully managed to negate all attempts at Congressional oversight for the genocide they enabled against the Kurdish people. Think long and hard on that and then you'll get one of those "Eureka!" moments, and you will know that there is not, nor will there ever be, any kind of effective oversight or prosecution for war crimes of anyone involved in the outsourcing of foreign policy through mercenaries.

It's hypocritical to complain about the proliferation of private militias in Iraq when these corporate mercenaries are private militias too. They also run around like cowboys in the Wild, Wild West, firing up everything in sight, with no thought for accountability nor a worry about war crimes tribunals. Why bother to have a plan for reconstruction when you can have private companies overcharging for the privilege of trying to force reconstruction in an unorganized, half-assed manner, thus driving up profits?

The conflict of interest inherent in the fact that former government and military officials are behind these companies, or that they hold positions in governments making the decisions that boost the profit margins of these companies is very worrying. In light of the conflict of interest, claims of desire for democratic change, on the part of these same officials, appear as nothing more than high-priced advertising for the benefit of these outsourcing whores. How convenient instead to manipulate the lives of millions and change the dynamics on the ground to favor the defense industry and private military contractors.

This amounts to more than simply outsourcing war; it's outsourcing of the shaping of foreign policy. It's not accountable to anyone, not to the citizens of the countries engaged in the outsourcing nor to those citizens of the target countries . . . all in the interests of big business, naturally.

Watch the PBS Frontline program, Private Warriors, here.

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