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September 28, 2007

A Blackwater Bouquet
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:53 PM * 85 comments

Condottieri from Blackwater have been much in the news lately. Here’s a roundup of recent stories:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Security contractors in Iraq use some over-the-top tactics and overreact at times, a top U.S. general in Iraq said Friday.

Many in Iraq have witnessed security contractors operating in a questionable fashion, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief of staff for the Multi-National Corps in Iraq.

“I can certainly say I’ve seen them do some tactics that I thought were over the top. But that’s something we’ve got to keep working out,” Anderson said in a briefing to Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Iraq.

His comments soon after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he wants closer oversight of Pentagon contractors in Iraq. Gates has dispatched a team there to review accountability and oversight.

Anderson did not offer specific examples of incidents he had seen.

Over the top? Let’s help the General out with some specific incidents:

BAGHDAD — On Sept. 9, the day before Army Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker told Congress that things were getting better, Batoul Mohammed Ali Hussein came to Baghdad for the day.

A clerk in the Iraqi customs office in Diyala province, she was in the capital to drop off and pick up paperwork at the central office near busy al Khilani Square, not far from the fortified Green Zone, where top U.S. and Iraqi officials live and work. U.S. officials often pass through the square in heavily guarded convoys on their way to other parts of Baghdad.

As Hussein walked out of the customs building, an embassy convoy of sport-utility vehicles drove through the intersection. Blackwater security guards, charged with protecting the diplomats, yelled at construction workers at an unfinished building to move back. Instead, the workers threw rocks. The guards, witnesses said, responded with gunfire, spraying the intersection with bullets.

Hussein, who was on the opposite side of the street from the construction site, fell to the ground, shot in the leg. As she struggled to her feet and took a step, eyewitnesses said, a Blackwater security guard trained his weapon on her and shot her multiple times. She died on the spot, and the customs documents she’d held in her arms fluttered down the street.

At least one other Iraqi was killed in the same incident.

Three days later, Blackwater guards were back in al Khilani Square, Iraqi government officials said. This time, there was no shooting, witnesses said. Instead, the Blackwater guards hurled frozen bottles of water into store windows and windshields, breaking the glass.

That’s certainly an unusual tactic. I wonder what it was supposed to accomplish?

Earlier this year:

BAGHDAD — The Blackwater incidents cited by Iraq’s Interior Ministry as reason for the security firm to be barred from operating in Iraq include the deaths of four people with ties to Iraq’s government-funded television network.

The first of those was the Feb. 2 shooting death of Suhad Shakir, a reporter with the Al Atyaf channel, as she was driving to work. She died outside the Foreign Ministry near the Green Zone, where top U.S. and Iraqi officials live and work.

Five days later, three Iraqi security guards were gunned down inside the fortified compound that houses the government-funded Iraqi Media Network, which is also known as Iraqiya.

Habib Sadr, the network’s director general, said the three guards, members of Iraq’s Facilities Protection Service, were at their post at the back of the complex. A towering blast wall was a short distance in front of them to protect the compound from Haifa Street, which is notorious for car bombings and drive-by shootings.

According to Sadr and Interior Ministry officials, the three were picked off one by one by Blackwater snipers stationed on the roof of the 10-story Justice Ministry about 220 yards away on the opposite side of the street.

“The investigation showed that they were killed in cold blood and in an aggressive and unjustified way,” Sadr said. “I believe that if this happened in any state in the United States and they killed an animal, it would be condemned by all.

“They were target practice,” Sadr said.

The most recent and most notorious incident happened on the 16th of this month:

First, here’s Blackwater’s version:

Sunday’s firefight took place about noon (4 a.m. ET) near Nusoor Square, in western Baghdad. Marty Strong, vice president of Blackwater USA, said the group’s employees were protecting an American official when they were hit by “a large explosive device, then repeated small-arms fire — and to the point where it disabled one of the vehicles, and the vehicle had to be towed out of the firefight.” (Posted 7:30 p.m.)

That isn’t the way the Iraqis saw it:

U.S. officials provided few details of the shooting, which took place as Blackwater guards were escorting unidentified State Department officials through a central Baghdad neighborhood.

Witnesses said the dead included the driver of one car and a mother and child whom he was transporting. Police said the dead included five Iraqi police officers who’d tried to help. At least nine cars were set on fire.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack described the incident as a “firefight,” but three people who claimed to have witnessed the shooting said that only the Blackwater guards were firing.

The witnesses said the shooting began after a convoy of four gray armored vehicles drove into Al Nisour Square, a major intersection in central Baghdad. Iraqi police stopped traffic to let the convoy pass, the witnesses said. One car, however, drove up from behind the traffic to squeeze into a spot at the front. As it did, the security contractors opened fire, the witnesses said.

The young driver was killed instantly, but the shooting continued. The witnesses said they believe a grenade was launched at the car, which burst into flames, killing a young mother and baby in the back seat.

When Iraqi police approached to help the people in the burning car, the contractors started shooting at them. They also shot at a minivan and a bus, the witnesses said.

On Monday, the charred white vehicle where the man, mother and child were said to have died was pushed to the side of the road.

Police said 15 people were wounded. None of the dead and wounded was an armed insurgent, police said.

Apparently there’s a videotape of the whole incident. The number of dead is variously reported as five, nine, and eleven.

Same incident, from another witness:

Afrah Sattar, 27, was on a bus approaching the square when she saw the guards fire on the white car. She and her mother, Ghania Hussein, were headed to the Certificate of Identification Office in Baghdad to pick up proof of Sattar’s Iraqi citizenship for an upcoming trip to a religious shrine in Iran.

When she saw the gunmen turn toward the bus, Sattar looked at her mother in fear. “They’re going to shoot at us, Mama,” she said. Her mother hugged her close. Moments later, a bullet pierced her mother’s skull and another struck her shoulder, Sattar recalled.

As her mother’s body went limp, blood dripped onto Sattar’s head, still cradled in her mother’s arms.

“Mother, mother,” she called out. No answer. She hugged her mother’s body and kissed her lips and began to pray, “We belong to God and we return to God.” The bus emptied, and Sattar sat alone at the back, with her mother’s bleeding body.

“I’m lost now, I’m lost,” she said days later in her simple two-bedroom home. Ten people lived there; now there are nine.

“They are killers,” she said of the Blackwater guards. “I swear to God, not one bullet was shot at them. Why did they shoot us? My mother didn’t carry a weapon.”

Under a decree from Paul Bremer, the “contractors” can’t be prosecuted by the Iraqis for crimes committed in Iraq. As civilians they don’t fall under the UCMJ. Their actions in a foreign country don’t fall under US law.

So who are these guys?

ABOUT BLACKWATER

Founded in 1996 by Erik Prince, a former Navy Seal, multimillionaire and conservative Republican donor, Blackwater began as a training facility for police and the military but began offering security services after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Prince, whose father helped bankroll conservative Christian organizations such as Focus On Family and Family Research Council, has given at least $225,000 to the Republican Party and its candidates.

The Congressional Research Service said that as of May there were 987 Blackwater security contractors in Iraq. The director of the Private Security Company Association of Iraq told Congress in 2006 that there were 48,000 contractors from 181 companies providing security in Iraq.

Comments on A Blackwater Bouquet:
#1 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 11:03 PM:

Their troubles aren't limited to Iraq:

RALEIGH, N.C. — The U.S. government is investigating whether private military contractor Blackwater USA, blamed for the deaths of 11 Iraqis in Baghdad on Sunday, has been shipping automatic weapons and military goods to Iraq without a license.

Two former Blackwater employees have pleaded guilty in Greenville, N.C., to weapons charges and are cooperating with federal officials who are investigating Blackwater, which is based in the tiny town of Moyock in the northeastern corner of North Carolina.

Two sources familiar with the investigation said that prosecutors are looking at whether Blackwater lacked permits for dozens of automatic weapons used at its training grounds in Moyock. The investigation is also looking into whether Blackwater was shipping weapons, night-vision scopes, armor, gun kits and other military goods to Iraq without the required permits.

See also.

#2 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 11:37 PM:

So, Blackwater contractors are not immune to war crimes prosecutions like regular US soldiers are, right?

#3 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 12:27 AM:

The way I read the Geneva Conventions, not really. A soldier could commit a war crime; a civilian couldn't.

As civilians these guys are personally responsible for all of their actions. Their personal actions are murder, mayhem, manslaughter, and so on. You might also argue crimes against humanity (where civilian or military status is irrelevant).

The trouble is finding exactly who has jurisdiction. At the moment it seems no one does.

The International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries seems relevant in all this.

#4 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 12:28 AM:

One car, however, drove up from behind the traffic to squeeze into a spot at the front.

I'd consider that a high-risk move when the Secret Service were protecting the President; and Iraq is a much higher-threat environment and Blackwater is very definitely not the Secret Service, either.

I hate to sound like I'm defending Blackwater even a little bit on anything at all, and maybe with more information this one looks totally absurd instead of merely very unfortunate too; but people thinking in bodyguard mode ("protect the principal") operating in a war zone are NOT going to take kindly to a vehicle forcing its way to the front of the stopped traffic, where it's closest to the convoy being protected. Especially not when car bombs are a daily occurrence. And, once you're engaged, it's very hard to stop (without acquiring habits that are suicide if you really ARE being attacked).

This sort of thing is, in fact, a big part of the REASON why it's such a bad idea to let civil unrest continue. This is where you inevitably end up as people with power get people to protect them as they try to move around in the not-peaceful area. Putting this off as a Blackwater problem is, I think, ignoring an even bigger problem.

(And there are plenty of clearly-Blackwater problems, and people expert in this might well find that Blackwater makes more fatal-to-others mistakes than competent people would do, too.)

#5 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 01:29 AM:

A story on NPR today quoted an eyewitness who said that one Blackwater guard in that convoy continued to fire after the others had ceased and that another Blackwater guard pointed his weapon at the first to get him to stop.

It would seem that even if Blackwater personnel are not cold-blooded killers, as seems likely, they're badly-trained and poorly-disciplined cowboys.

#6 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 01:30 AM:

people thinking in bodyguard mode ("protect the principal") operating in a war zone are NOT going to take kindly to a vehicle forcing its way to the front

Fine. Have Blackwater drop it's diplomatic immunity while operating in Iraq, and let the facts stand for themselves in any sort of legal court.

As it is, they have complete immunity from prosecution. And while certain right wingers might like to talk about how all 'doze ferriners are running around the United Nations building, wreaking havoc on poor New York with their diplomatic immunity. The same crowd sees no problem at all with giving complete immunity to american mercenaries.

Certainly, a court might be biased and hand down an unfair judgement, but compare that to mercs with guns operating with complete legal immunity in a profiteering war zone. Which do you think is closer to a better outcome?


#7 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 01:54 AM:

Actually, no one who is a US Citizen is immune to US prosecution for war crimes.

USC Title 18 Part 1 Chapter 118

§ 2441. War crimes

(a) Offense.— Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.

(b) Circumstances.— The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the person committing such war crime or the victim of such war crime is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).

(c) Definition.— As used in this section the term “war crime” means any conduct—

(1) defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party;

(2) prohibited by Article 23, 25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, signed 18 October 1907;

(3) which constitutes a violation of common Article 3 of the international conventions signed at Geneva, 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party and which deals with non-international armed conflict; or

(4) of a person who, in relation to an armed conflict and contrary to the provisions of the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended at Geneva on 3 May 1996 (Protocol II as amended on 3 May 1996), when the United States is a party to such Protocol, willfully kills or causes serious injury to civilians.

This is the part which has pissed me off since Abu Ghraib broke. They said the contractors were immune from prosecution because they weren't in the Army, and it all happened in Iraq.

Which was, in a word, bullshit. So why didn't they enforce this law? The only answer I could come up with was that it would do more harm than not prosecuting them; which was damning because the only way I could see that being the case that it was all approved.

I'm spending more time at the range than I used to, and if Blackwater comes to my part of town, well that's it, you'd better believe there's a civil disturbance, because at that point I'll be in revolt.

#8 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 02:29 AM:

I put up a longer version of this, incorporating stuff Jim put up, as well as things which have been percolating in my head since before Fallujah.

I think we need to remind everyone about the War Crimes act of 1996, and that it applies.

#9 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 02:38 AM:

Terry Karney @ 7

If you do decide to go up against the tyrants and their goons, just don't be a hero, OK? Snipe at them, harry them, slip up on them from behind in the night; just don't give them any chance at you. You're worth a hell of a lot more than any ten of them.

#10 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 02:45 AM:

I was referring to the US objections to the international court set up by the Rome treaty, when the US stated it wanted to avoid politically motivated prosecutions against its soldiers and policy makers. The real reason that the US wanted immunity, of course, is because the administration fully intended its future military options to include actions which could be interpreted as war crimes by that court. In any case, US war crimes laws are irrelevant if the administration decides not to enforce the law, in order to further its goals. I wonder if there is a Signing Statement associated with that law?

#11 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 02:54 AM:

Bruce: On a good day I can hold .7 MOA.

On a bad day, about 1.5 (my last trip to the range had a lot of mirage, so i was at the higher end of that).

If it comes to the sticking point, the Army trained me to be a live lion, whenever possible. They may get me, but I don't intend for it to be trivial.

I also don't plan to be alone in the endeavour. Blackwater has 2,300 employees. Yeah, lots of them are bad men (you don't hire goons who worked for Pinochet because they have good manners), but there are a lot more decent people, and I intend to put every last bit of what I know of how to run an underground to work.

Revolt isn's something one does by one's lonesome.

#12 ::: jmnlman ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 03:19 AM:

Spray n' prey, all the way. I thought they were actually supposed to be trained to a high standard.

This completely destroys the myth of Iraqi sovereignty. After all they wanted them out and they're not.

#13 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 03:32 AM:

Just remember that the bad guys have Google too.

#15 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 04:30 AM:

Dave Bell: I am counting on it. I want enough people to promise extreme prejudice in dealing with this, that it's less easy to contemplate.

Because I've read that, and a whole lot more. I know people who've dealt with blackwater, and affiliates.

#16 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 04:36 AM:

Why Blackwater — and More — Should Leave Iraq

Leaving Iraq is a good idea. Prosecuted to the full extent of the law is a better one.

What stops the Iraqi government from merely saying "Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17 is not valid" and arresting the lot of them?

#17 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 04:56 AM:

Karney 15

I don't know anyone in that field, but I have a niggling suspicion that Blackwater may be not only the largest, but the best & most Responsible of the many mercenary organizations with which we're contracting. At the risk of harping on an old tune, this seems to bear out my contention that contracting-out almost always costs more and produces a decrease in quality. (I wonder if the firms in India that are planning on re-contracting-out some of their US-source computerist jobs to the US (now that the dollar is slipping) will discover that.)

#18 ::: Martyn ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 06:06 AM:

From what I saw last night of that Japanese photo-journalist being shot in Rangoon, it looks as though Blackwater has a sub-office in Burma. Then the pretty face speaking for the junta says 'if he had not beeing doing bad thing he would not have been shot.'

See, if only we do as we are told by those nice people in office, nothing bad will happen to any of us!

#17 Don Fitch - some of my (present) employer's outsourced contracts are being repatriated because the Indian contractors are losing staff at such a rate they can't fulfil the contracts. And the dollar has a l-o-n-g way to fall before the basic 'we can do it cheaper' argument will apply. Minimum wage here (or where you are) is several times what they pay in Mumbai.

#19 ::: a person ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 06:33 AM:

@ #4, Please, don't defend them.
It's tiring to constantly hear variations on the theme, "Well, if you didn't do X, Y wouldn't happen to you!"

Examples:
If you don't complain at the peace rally, you won't get tazered.
If you didn't annoy Blackwater by driving so close to them, you wouldn't get shot.
If you didn't walk into that bar, you wouldn't get raped.

I read it almost daily anymore as I see people trying to defend the indefensible. Why people want to do this, I don't know. They wanted to kill people, plain and simple. They chose their jobs just so they could kill people. Let's not defend them. The civilians are not to blame.

#20 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 06:48 AM:

I don't think the Iraqi government is in a position to do more than serve a warrant. They don't have the muscle to take it further.

Though maybe Blackwater are hated enough that trying to arrest them would tend to unify Iraq.

#21 ::: Ann Neff ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 07:29 AM:

The News & Observer has a blog dedicated to Blackwater reports at
http://blogs.newsobserver.com/blackwater/index.php (the author is no relation to me).

And I know I'm very much behind the times, but when did the Marines stop having the duty of protecting embassies? Why aren't our Marines doing the jobs that these mercenaries are doing?

#22 ::: Matthew Lerner ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 08:12 AM:

Re: #4, #19
Respectfully, I think the Secret Service analogy is ridiculous. If the Secret Service opened fire on civilians, for ANY REASON, and ended up killing 5-10 innocent bystanders, there would be screaming, gnashing of teeth, firings, arrests, recriminations, expressions of "they went too far", and promises to reform the agency with better safeguards. The fact that the authorities are saying "it happens" is disgusting and reprehensible.

#23 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 08:26 AM:

It's interesting to note that Bush has been working on getting immunity for war crimes prosecution, not just for current military officers and politicians, but for former US soldiers. Events like this are what Alberto Gonzales was trying to protect from prosecution when he attempted to exempt the entire field of conflict in the middle east from the Geneva Convention applying to them.

n the memo, the White House lawyer focused on a little known 1996 law passed by Congress, known as the War Crimes Act, that banned any Americans from committing war crimes—defined in part as "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions. Noting that the law applies to "U.S. officials" and that punishments for violators "include the death penalty," Gonzales told Bush that "it was difficult to predict with confidence" how Justice Department prosecutors might apply the law in the future.

Or for that matter, how many abuses of human rights companies like Blackwater might perpetrate. Because if Blackwater is in any way guilty, the people who hired them get to answer for those crimes in some sense.

Funny, isn't it, how Republicans use the language of personal responsibility when talking about welfare mothers, but find ways out of the heat when it comes to taking responsibility for hiring private killers who go on shooting rampages.

Personal responsibility for the poor, no responsibility for the rich, Republican and well connected.

#24 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 08:48 AM:

Ann Neff

I think the State Department hired them to protect their people when out travelling, not the embassy (which still has Marine guards, IIRC).
But it doesn't excuse hiring shoot-first-ask-questions-never goons, and then protecting them from the consequences.

The thought of having Blackwater (and other paramilitary), armed and working legally as guards, in this country is scary.

#25 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 09:29 AM:

#23:

Gonzales told Bush that "it was difficult to predict with confidence" how Justice Department prosecutors might apply the law in the future.

For "in the future", read "when you don't have me around to squelch inconvenient investigations"...
Personal responsibility for the poor, no responsibility for the rich, Republican and well connected.

Of course. Integrity is for suckers. (At least, that's what social dominators believe.)

#26 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 11:09 AM:

It sounds to me like good, old-fashioned, imperialist extraterritoriality* combined with the creation of a private army loyal, not to the Republic, but to the Republican Party.


* In China prior to the Second World War, Westerners could literally get away with murder because they were not subject to Chinese law.

#27 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 11:19 AM:

I recently heard a report (on NPR, I think) that Blackwater is bidding on a contract to work for FEMA (or perhaps, Homeland Security, I forget) providing security in case of natural disasters such as earthquakes. Living as I do in the SF Bay Area, where everyone knows that The Big One is coming, this news did not make me feel secure. Blackwater would presumably be doing the job that the National Guard was meant to handle. One thinks of Katrina. This is a genuinely bad idea.

#28 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 11:19 AM:

a person @ 19:
@ #4, Please, don't defend them.
It's tiring to constantly hear variations on the theme, "Well, if you didn't do X, Y wouldn't happen to you!"

Examples:
If you don't complain at the peace rally, you won't get tazered.
If you didn't annoy Blackwater by driving so close to them, you wouldn't get shot.
If you didn't walk into that bar, you wouldn't get raped.

I read it almost daily anymore as I see people trying to defend the indefensible. Why people want to do this, I don't know.

Some people do it to try to shut down that little voice of fear in their own head. If they can convince themselves that the people who get tazered/shot/raped somehow deserved it, or at least brought it on themselves, then they can feel safer because they themselves would never be in that category. They submerge any critical faculties in a froth of excuses for the system of evil, for its enforcers, and especially for those who most benefit from it, and throw their energy into constructing and clinging to a code of acceptable behavior for subjugated peoples that supports those excuses. Because that's really what it is.

Waving around that code of propitiatory behavior help some ward off the fear that they really might be the next target of opportunity. That's too terrifying a thought to function with, so there must be something they can do, something to keep them safe. (Or, if they've been a target in a small way already and survived, something they desperately hope might keep them safe next time.) It happens in any situation of unequal power where that power is being abused and where the targets have no adequate recourse. That's how you get things like:

If I can explain myself better, so-and-so will stop shouting me down.

If I can show him how much I love him and how good things could be, my husband will stop hitting me.

If we are all more supportive of the Dictator, the guards won't be so trigger-happy.

Sometimes in my worst hours I think that people embrace these sets of magical actions, these dress-and-behavior codes for subject peoples, as a way to have something to do, because actually addressing the evil that's being done, the system that supports it, and the ones who most benefit from it, well... that's dangerous. It's also unseemly behavior, and likely to get you tazered/shot/raped.

No. I'm not being honest. I think that sometimes people embrace these propitiatory codes of behavior because they believe it's hopeless to try to change the situation, and the best chance for their own survival is to go along to get along, and being a stooge for the system offers at least some reward and protection. And in my worst moments, I think that might be an accurate assessment.

I can't live that way, though.

#29 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 11:19 AM:

Hmmm. Now, why would anyone be concerned about a far-right retired elite soldier with extensive political connections accumulating a large, battle-hardened private army? What bad things could possibly result from such an innocent situation?

#30 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 12:44 PM:

Dave Bell @ 20:

Yeah, arresting guys who carry assault rifles and are trained to fight in teams is a non-trivial proposition. Particularly when their contract with the State Department virtually guarantees US military backup.

For example: The incident that sparked all this discussion effectively ended when the US Army extracted one of Blackwater's teams from a standoff with Iraqi police.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/27/AR2007092702498_pf.html

I'd be a lot happier if the media started referring to these people as "mercenaries". The term "security contractor" is a cotton-mouthed lie.

#31 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 01:10 PM:

I think Blackwater and some of the USCIS people are the potential core of a US version of the brownshirts.

It's been very nice, but I have to scream now.

#32 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 01:30 PM:

Randolph @31: Yes, I've always assumed that was the *point* of Blackwater. Blood them in Iraq, give them vast funding, then bring them home to operate in the US. And, oh look - they've just been awarded $15bn to get involved in activities that will almost certainly lead to them operating on US soil. Day by day, step by step, fascism is being built in America. At this point, it may be unstoppable. Once upon a time I'd have thought I was being paranoid thinking such a thing. Now it's just about being awake.

#33 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 01:48 PM:

#31: "Potential"??

#34 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 01:58 PM:

Correcting Randolph Fritz #31:

I think Blackwater and some of the USCIS people are the potential core of a US version of the brownshirts SS.

#35 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 02:06 PM:

Yep, they want to get Blackwater involved in drug and immigration control. Shoot the smugglers, plus any other people with them, and you'll solve the drug problem and the illegal-immigration problem.
Not.
I suspect that at some point Blackwater would end up keeping people from leaving the country without Official Permission, which would, of course, only be given to people who were friends of Officials or had provided hostages assurances of returning.

#36 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 02:28 PM:

P J... How about Blackwater in charge of airport security? That would make me feel so safe. Not.

#37 ::: Will A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 03:20 PM:

#27 ::: Lizzy L -- Blackwater would presumably be doing the job that the National Guard was meant to handle. One thinks of Katrina. This is a genuinely bad idea.

One does think of Katrina. It happened. This from Chapter 18 of Jeremy Scahill's Blackwater:

The men from Blackwater USA arrived in New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005. The company beat the federal government and most aid organizations to the scene as 150 heavily armed Blackwater troops dressed in full battle gear spread out into the chaos of New Orleans . . . As the federal, state, and local government abandoned hundreds of thousands of hurricane victims, the images that dominated the television coverage of the hruricane were of looting, lawlessness, and chaos. These reports were exaggerated and, without question, racist and inflammatory. If you were watching from, say, Kennebunkport, Maine, you might imagine New Orleans as one big riot--a festival of criminals whose glory day had finally come. In reality, it was a city of internally displaced and abandoned people desperate for food, water, transportation, rescue, and help. What was desperately needed was food, water, and housing. Instead what poured in fastest were guns. Lots of guns.

(Full disclosure: I own the book. I haven't read the book. Just checked the glossary to find a quote. I did go to a lecture by Scahill; he quoted a few Blackwater guys describing their Katrina assignment as "fighting criminals" and "looters" rather than providing any humanitarian aid whatsoever. Lethal force was apparently authorized.)

#38 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 03:43 PM:

A Person: (this comment seems to have been swallowed in the ether).

I have mixed opinions about David Dyer-Bennet's comment at #4.

Because I don't think Blackwater has any right to its position (unaccountable and armed), but the job they are assigned is difficult.

I was in Iraq in 2003. When I was driving the Convoy Commander's vehicle there was a motorcycle which broke the convoy (this was during the shooting war). I was figuring out how to hit him, if I had to. Factoring in the odds of my needing to do it (since there were a lot of guns trained on him).

Later, during the occupation, I was in the back of the lead element in a two-vehicle convoy. A sedan, with four men in it broke in. The passenger behind the driver leaned forward, while reaching into his jacket.

If he'd pulled out something metallic, odds are I'd have shot him. That's all I was looking for; something metallic.

I don't know the situation on the ground, so the reaction to someone breaking the convoy might not be beyond the pale.

Everything after that, almost certainly was.

Just my two cents.

#39 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 04:34 PM:

Just a bit of possibly good news from the Raleigh News & Observer:

There's a new dimension to the fallout from the Sept. 16 shooting in Baghdad that left 11 Iraqis dead: Blackwater USA apparently has stopped all its expansion projects.
On Wednesday, the North Carolina private military contractor canceled a $5.5 million real estate deal to buy 1,800 acres of farmland near Fort Bragg, where the company was going to set up a training ground for soldiers and corporate executives.
#40 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 04:42 PM:

They're not in uniform, and they're carrying weapons around. Isn't that what the administration keeps saying about "unlawful combatants"?

#41 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 04:43 PM:

[have to get somewhere, so I haven't read the thread yet...]

Charles Taylor's (deposed tyrannical former head of Liberia) US-born and US citizen son, a few weeks back got tried and convicted, in the USA, for murders he committed in Liberia. The exact SAME thing should be done to those Blackwater murdering thugs, AND their bosses should be tried for being accessories to murders.

The precedent, again, is Mr Taylor.

#42 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 08:09 PM:

Naomi Parkhurst --

"soldiers and corporate executives"? Is this like that scene in Good Omens? She said, laughing blackly.

*needs to read her hometown paper more closely*

#43 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 08:37 PM:

Serge @ 36

I've flown one round trip since 9/11. I'm not crazy enough about security theater to want to spend an hour or so going through it for a one-hour flight (not to mention having to take half the stuff out of my purse that I normally carry, and not being able to take stuff I'd much rather carry). I'd rather spend six or seven hours driving and actually enjoy the travel.

#44 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 09:04 PM:

How do you solve a problem like Blackwater?
How do you keep a company like that pinned down?
How do you find a word that means Blackwater?
A over-priced service! A mercenary! A disgrace!

Many a thing you know you'd like to tell them
Many a thing they ought to understand
But how do you take them away
And not lose a diplomat a day
How do you keep focus off Afghanistan?

Oh, how do you solve a problem like Blackwater?
How do you win the war in Iraq?

#45 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 09:11 PM:

P J @ 43... My own experience with the security theater has been pretty mild, but it is all BS taht does nothing to make us safe. That being said, I too prefer driving. I still haven't gotten sick of the 1100-mile ride between Albuquerque and the Bay Area, and the only reason we'll be flying there the last week of October is that Sue has a tight writing deadline and can't spare the time taking the road. Besides, she just had arthroscopic surgery to one knee. OK, that's two reasons.

#46 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 09:58 PM:

Caroline @42

Yeah, it's pretty weird. I don't remember the Good Omens reference, alas.

My thought was, which corporate executives? Their own? Random corporations doing "team building"?

#47 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 03:31 AM:

OK, there's maybe reasons for the US military to send some people to civilian training. For instance, we can assume Boeing knows how toi fix their own planes. (And a lot of high-tech military equipment is sold to third-world countries with training in the deal.)

But I have to really wonder just who these Blackwater "soldiers" are.

#48 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 12:16 PM:

#47 Dave Bell, from what I understand many of them are former US Military (especially Special Forces), although I did hear they were recruiting in South America recently.

And to answer a question from farther upstream in the comments, I believe Aegis Defense Systems (British) is the largest "sercuity contractor" in Iraq. There are also larger US security firms in Iraq (unfortunately none of their names are coming to me at this moment). Blackwater is just the best well known because of the Fallujua incident, several other civilian death incidents like the one discussed in the main post, their internal US deployments, and their receiving the best posts in Iraq (Paul Bremer, Peter Pace, David Petreaus, the ambassadors, etc). If they were guarding the construction sites and lower level functionaries we wouldn't even know their names (and they would probably be asking for a refund on their political donations).

#49 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 01:40 PM:

Bruce @ 5 - Unfortunately it seems more like well-trained and poorly disciplined. A much more frightening combination.

#50 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 06:05 PM:

re Blackwater's structure.

(this is based on reading, and comments from others who have worked with/near them... as such it is to be taken with a grain of salt).

They are, when it comes to field-operatives, largely US SpecOps personell (SF, SEAL, Pararescue, MarineRecon). For the past few years (as they have become more involved in hostile area contracts, been hiring folks from South America/Africa. As I understand it those employees (at present) aren't running teams.

Aegis (from Britain) has a lot of folks who were in South Africa, Rhodesia, etc.

As was said, well trained; differently disciplined. Remember that these are mercenaries. The loyalty is to the company, not the employer. There are mercenaries who take the contract as law (the Swiss Pikes, for example, or the Scottish Guards of the Bourbon kings), but most aren't, in the corporate culture, all that loyal to the employer (be it a nation, or a company) and not at all to the ideals of the country.

Which is why armies are better; esp for a democratic society. The people who make up an army are a slice of the body politic. There are things (which vary from polity to polity) they won't do.

One can even, with a bit of analysis, come to a reasonable idea of what those things are (this isn't hard and fast; while there weren't any Malmédy incidents, of note... cf Band of Brothers, in WW2, we have more substantial incidence of My Lai type events in Vietnam. I note, by way of explanation, that these were later in the war. They were concommitant with the Army being broken, and things like fragging, in-country desertions, internal lack of identification [see the "Black Shacks"; which were referred to by James Webb in "Fields of Fire").

One can't make such an assumption about mercenaries. One, they are a subset of a subset: people who join the milirary are not the same as those who don't (though the gap is probably less than most like to think. For all its flaws see Grossman, "On Killing"). Those who join a mercenary organisation are that subset of those who join the military who have zero-qualms about killing.

They don't need the mental defense that this is allowed because of national need/interest/sanction. No, they are willing to kill people solely because someone else (be it a person, a corporation, or a nation) wants those people killed; and is willing to pay them to do it.

Mercenaries are gangs of hit men, with non-specific contracts.

#51 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 07:58 PM:

@19, @28 - Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with Elise (or "elise" as the case may be, ha.) The need to believe that there's some control you can exert over bad things happening is very powerful.

Case in point: our son has kidney problems, and our daughter has Crohn's. (Yes, that really sucks.) (We're pretty sure there's genetics involved; I blame the fish people.) My wife's family, bless their little souls, are Catholic and evangelical (no, not the same ones) and they've independently said that it's clearly our fault for (check all that apply) (a) not making them sleep more, (b) moving so much, (c) my wife leaving Hungary in the first place, (d) not praying (they don't agree on how, of course), (e) homeschooling.

For reasons unrelated, both kids are going to school this year, but their medical conditions have not been affected, so that's not it. (Unfortunately.)

My wife actually stopped talking to her sister for quite some time after she said that it was my wife's fault for being an atheist anyway.

My point being that until serious illness strikes, everybody knows how to avoid it. We did nothing to "earn" this -- our kids have always been the ones eating healthy food and spending lots of time outdoors, for instance -- but it still happens.

The same applies to anyone unfortunate enough to be in front of history happening; everybody likes to think they wouldn't have been the ones with a 4-AM knock on the door if they had lived in Germany in 1939, but the point is you have to eliminate the danger at its source, not simply use your incantations to hope it'll strike someone else.

Sigh.

Anyway, this has been another issue of "thank you for listening to my problems." We now return you to your regularly scheduled doggerel. (Nice adaptation up there, Steve @ 44.)

#52 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 08:47 PM:

Dave Bell, #47, at my last job, I received anti-terrorist training. Of course, back then, the Soviets were the terrorists. I'm pretty sure I can still take an eye out or an ear off, even though I'm disabled now.

#53 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 08:59 PM:

Michael Roberts @ 51

Yes, that deeply sucks. I hope your kids come out of their health problems OK. And I hope your relatives learn enough to keep their mouths shut about the causes of other people's problems.

#54 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 09:11 PM:

Terry Karney @ 50

This is not an area I know a lot about, but I do get the impression, reading between the lines, that mercenaries like those Blackwater employs often have individual agendas of their own that can play out rather nastily under the kind of "different" discipline they seem to get in the field.

Some of them, for instance, aren't just willing to kill, they enjoy it so much that they were unable to get what they wanted from government work. Others come from the losing side of civil wars or the losing side of the fall of racist governments, and they're interested in revenge on the ethnic group they identify as their conquerors.

Does this seem like an accurate description, or is my imagination running away with me?

#55 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 09:38 PM:

Naomi @ 46, I was referring to the scene wherein the former Satanic nun has started a corporate training center, involving paintball fights, and Crowley gets involved and changes the paintball warfare into some very real warfare.

There is some discussion of "Corporate initiative training with real guns? They'll form queues!"

Reality, perhaps, imitates satire. (In fact, this has been true since GWB was elected. My satire radar overloaded and broke.)

#56 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 10:01 PM:

Bruce (STM): That's not a bad take.

It's worse now, than it was in the days of widespread mercenaries in the employ of kings; because it was a business, and they were being used for national aims, against other nations.

Which is why Machievelli was so down on them.

#57 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 10:06 PM:

We know someone who was killed by the blackwater mercs in NO -- long past the first months of the emergency, but later. They 'own' bars in the French Quarter, and they behave like the evil, answser-to-nobody thick neck bullies they are.

I can't say more because investigation is ongoing. Though the investigation had to be forced into existence. The Chief of Police, nobody, investigated. The guy fell down and broke all the bones in his head, you see.

#58 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 04:20 AM:

Terry Karny at #38:

Later, during the occupation, I was in the back of the lead element in a two-vehicle convoy. A sedan, with four men in it broke in. The passenger behind the driver leaned forward, while reaching into his jacket.

If he'd pulled out something metallic, odds are I'd have shot him. That's all I was looking for; something metallic.

I don't know the situation on the ground, so the reaction to someone breaking the convoy might not be beyond the pale.

The following is not aimed at Terry, who seems a decent chap, but:

Security concerns really cannot not be an excuse for criminal behaviour. Would we accept it if the police started shooting up cars coming to close to a convoy escorting mr Big to prison?

The war and subsequent occupation are already illegal and immoral, so in my view the soldiers serving in it automatically have less leeway in deciding which is and is not a legitamite action, just like you are allowed to use greater force in self defense than you are otherwise.

Far too often all of us seem to accept that killing innocent people is allowed, as long as it's done in the name of security because they were thought to be a threat, or because they were "collatoral damage" sustained when trying to kill the "bad guys".

#59 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 08:33 AM:

Martin, the trouble is that Iraq, for all the claims made about the surge, is in a state of chaos. There is no government, because nobody has the usable force to restore order. The US military is no more useful than it was in Somalia. The US military is a better organised, and better disciplined, faction, but that's all it is.

Comparing Terry's experience with that of Secret Service escorting the US President in Washington is missing the point. While their training and culture might lead them to put their own bodies between an assassin and their charge, the Secret Service are not thegns to the King; they don't get gold armrings from their Lord. The President's power doesn't depend on their prowess.

And Tarry wasn't quite in that position either. He's still part of the US.

But the Iraqi President is on the other side of that line. And so is anyone else guarded by Blackwater. They're not buying guards, they're buying their own little army, and, unlike Beortnoth, you're not going to find them lying dead about their slain Lord.

#60 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 10:08 AM:

Martin Wisse @ 38

The personal rules of engagement that Terry described are considered quite reasonable by police shooting investigation teams many times each year in this country. Where an armed and trained agent of a service tasked with operations in a chaotic area sees evidence of the imminent use of deadly force against him or herself or comrades, or against the general population, it is generally considered acceptable to preempt with deadly force. Investigations of such actions are often concerned primarily with how reasonable that expectation of attack was.

The difference between what Terry described, and what Blackwater does, is that Blackwater seems to have a much lower standard of reasonableness than most* police forces in the US, and much less concern for collateral damage**.

It is true that Blackwater operates in an extremely chaotic environment where they actually are in considerable danger; neverthess my estimation of their reliability is close to that of a Mickey Mouse watch: it's right exactly twice a day, everyday.


* This is a rather damning evaluation; by my and others' on this thread estimation, the average level of fire discipline in US police forces is quite low.

** Possibly even little concern for damage to their own comrades, based on some reports.

#61 ::: Cathy Krusberg ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 10:22 AM:

Michael Roberts @ #51 wrote:

My wife's family, bless their little souls, are Catholic and evangelical (no, not the same ones) and they've independently said that it's clearly our fault for (check all that apply)

For self-proclaimed Christians, these folks sound awfully ignorant of the Book of Job.

#62 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 10:53 AM:

One troubling aspect to the general problem of Blackwater is that the US Dept of State can be expected to have an extremely detailed knowledge of all this, since it is mostly the State Dept that's being guarded there. They have nurtured this unpleasantness for a number of years by pouring money on it.

If some of the Blackwater guys are in essence war criminals, the State Dept officials who let this go on are certainly at very least accomplices.

#63 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 11:26 AM:

Cathy Krusberg: nobody reads the book of Job. If more people read and understood it, then there would be no "Lying in the Name of God" thread. As far as I can tell, too many professed Christians read everything up through Exodus, memorize random Proverbs and Ps 23, skim the high points of the gloomier prophets and gloss over the Gospels, then spend way too much time on Revelation.

#64 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 11:46 AM:

When they are attacked, they will respond immediately and decisively with deadly force, and when they are not attacked, they will respond immediately and decisively with deadly force. Lauding the skill and dispatch with which they accomplish their objective in the first scenario rather misses the point.

#65 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 01:29 PM:

Martin, et alia:

The difference between a convoy with "Mr. Big" and the situation in Iraq is multifold.

1: Odds are such a convoy as Mr. Big/the president/some other figure of note, is going to have outriders, specifically detailed to prevent the convoy being broken.

2: Such convoys are not, as a rule, actually attacked.

3: It's a tough call. How long does someone who is a target of a pattern of attack have to wait? I didn't shoot him. He was, so far as I could tell, taking his wallet out (no, I have no idea why he needed to show it to the driver).

If he'd taken a stainless steel pistol out and moved it toward the glass would I be justified in shooting. Almost certainly (I don't know of a jurisdiction which says an unloaded weapon isn't considered deadly).

If it had been blackened, and so less obvious? At what point is my defending myself allowed? Does someone have to shoot at me first?

I'm not a cop. We can, if one likes, go into the difference between unlawful wars, and unlawful orders (one can obey the latter, even in the former), but the shoot/don't shoot equation is, probably, impossible to explain; the timeframe is short and the pressure is immense.

Soldiers actually (pace Bruce) have it easier than cops; as a rule. Why? Because we only have to make that decision. I was in the back of that Humvee for four hours, doing nothing but scrutinize the surroundings for people trying to kill me.

Cops have other concerns, and generally, the moment is sudden.

Which doesn't change the fact that they need better training in it, because they so often screw it up.

#66 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 03:59 PM:

Terry Karney @ 65

You are right, of course, that if we're just talking about convoy guard a soldier has it easier than a cop, and the decisions are generally much clearer-cut. But, soldiers rarely only do convoy duty*; and the rules of engagement and the types of decisions are different for, say, a recon operation on foot in hostile territory, or a humanitarian mission to a civilian, non-hostile area. I suspect it can get difficult to keep your situation and requirements straight from one type of mission to another. I know it did in Vietnam at times.

A little bit upthread we were talking about training versus discipline wrt Blackwater. It's occurred to me that it's not that easy to distinguish sometimes, since the decision to fire/not fire is made pretty much by trained reflex, not by conscious, reflective thought. So the way you make the decision you is rather dependent on the training.

In particular, I'm wondering just what rules of engagement Blackwater operatives are trained for by default. Some of the things they've been reported as doing sound like they've spent a lot of time training for recon by fire; this is a mode of operation that the Israeli Defense Forces have used in similar situations to Iraq (e.g., on incursions into the Palestinian Territories and on their invasion of Lebanon), which has proved to be a truly bad idea in counter-insurgent operations: it typically creates more insurgents than you kill.


* Especially these days, with civilian contractors to do that in a lot of cases, allowing soldiers to do other jobs. At least in theory.

#67 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 04:14 PM:

Bruce: Depends on the convoy (and don't get me started on KBR, and mail).

ROE change (and there was a big change after May, 2003), but it's something which gets drilled. We always reviewed the ROE before we left.

The real problem, right now, is the soldiers are being asked to play cop; while being soldiers.

Recon by fire is a so-so technique, even in a battlespace (the disciplined enemy will hold fire, and boom-- welcome to the kill-zone, but you know that).

In a non-battle space, it's a terrible idea.

#68 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 04:18 PM:

You are right, of course, that if we're just talking about convoy guard a soldier has it easier than a cop

The kind of guys we're talking about are also paid a whole heck of a lot more than a cop, so expectations are higher. That these guys were supposed to be able to cope with such situations was part of the sales pitch. Blackwater was sold as a superior source of security than the combination of our military and the Diplomatic Security Service.

What happens to them if they turn out to be too bloodthirsty is that they get fired and go to work for another PMC, or, if they wear out the job market that way, they go home and give Security Contractor lessons to wannabees.

Hypothetically speaking -- because there is no data on this because collecting it would require access to a lot of personnel records that will never be public -- one can reasonably expect that there have probably been a lot of excess deaths in the process of this kind of security contractor attrition.

#69 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 04:42 PM:
It's a tough call. How long does someone who is a target of a pattern of attack have to wait?
If a firefight is not already actively in progress, I'd say "at least long enough to distinguish an attack from something that looks like an attack but isn't". (ObSF: the Prometheus incident which started the Earth-Minbari War in Babylon 5.)

The problem is that when placed in a situation where a Type II error can kill you and a Type I error can kill someone else, many people adopt standards of evidence that basically ignore the risk of Type I error. This problem is not unique to Blackwater, but I thought one of the purposes of proper military discipline (which mercenaries are often notorious for lacking) is to keep soldiers from shooting everyone that looks at them funny.

Does someone have to shoot at me first?
Shoot, no. But I'm disturbed by a standard that says they don't even have to start moving in a direction that would lead to aiming, in situations where nobody has fired yet. (Maybe that's not what you're actually advocating, in which case I apologize for any misunderstanding.)


P.S. Going into this type of situation without the capacity to communicate with the locals at least to the extent of saying "Back off" or "Drop the gun" is catastrophically stupid. If you have that kind of communication capability but prefer to shoot first and communicate later, that's evil. Neither should be tolerated by the people responsible (and in a democracy, that's us).

#70 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 05:37 PM:

Chris: My, personal, example was one where a mistake of caution on my part meant I got shot at; if not hit.

Try to imagine:

June 19th, 2003, on the road north from Tikrit.

I am physically less able than I ought to be (which doesn't factor in the morality of it, but does for the ability to make decisions).

The temperature is 115-120, and I have a 50 mph wind. My only drink, for 2-3 hours of travel is water; warmer than blood.

A sedan gets between my vehicle and the one behind. The windows are tinted. It has four males in it; I can tell this because the windshield is less tinted than the side windows).

The two I can clearly, are 25-30.

One of the guys in the back leans forward, gestures toward me, and then reaches into his jacket.

That's where I was when I had to decide what I was going to react to.

I had other shoot/don't shoot situations, some of which were harder, because of the ROE.

During the shooting war the ROE was, In uniform, fair game.

A US MP was on the side of the road, with nothing to make him plain; wearing no blouse, just a t-shirt and a vest.

I recognised the helmet and camo-pattern before I shot him, but I was aiming at him, and doing the math.

This probably supports some of Bruce's argument that the question is harder for a soldier than I made it out to be, and that's the fault of my being immersed in it, and so not seeing all the subtleties.

#71 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 05:42 PM:

Chris: Also, there are matters of scale.

Where the question is where a war is the result, one has to wait a little longer than that for which the result is a single death/firefight.

Is it callous... yeah, some.

But again, what level of self-defense is allowable.

I, for one, don't relish being told I have to have shots fired before I can take action.

On the flip side, just because someone has an AK isn't enough to make him a valid target (in the present battlespace) but an RPG (IMO) would be.

Why? Because the AK is ubiquitous, and the RPG is only used againt military/Coalition targets; not in sectarian strife.

#73 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 09:49 PM:

I don't intend to personally criticize you (and you don't specify what you actually did), but I wouldn't have fired the first shot under those conditions (in particular, not having even seen a weapon and having no evidence of hostile intent). At least, that's what my conscious mind says under much more benign conditions.

However, I've never been in a war; it's quite possible that if I went to one with that attitude I wouldn't come back. I don't insist that everyone do things the way I would do them.


One thing I do insist on, though, is that if someone's guess turns out to be wrong and they gunned down unarmed people, that they admit the mistake and take responsibility for it. It doesn't matter how much it looked like they might have been going to attack - they weren't, because they were unarmed. Therefore Blackwater screwed up and should accept responsibility, not try to dodge it.

The attitude of not caring how many innocent people they kill is, in some ways, worse than the fact that they killed innocent people in the first place, because it says that they don't really mind killing innocent people and if they happen to do it again, oh well, can't make an omelet without killing a few people. It's a cold-blooded, depraved callousness that goes far beyond any accidental shooting.

#74 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 10:20 PM:

Chris: I didn't see what looked like a weapon.

If I had seen something which looked like a weapon... I don't know. Probably 70/30 against, but there's that 30.

If he'd had a weapon, I'd have shot him.

The vehicle broke into the convoy. He leaned forward. He produced a weapon.

That's an attack. I'd compare it to walking into a bank, putting on a mask and pulling out a pistol. At that point you are prepping to rob it, and someone who does the things in the hypothetical can only be assumed to be attacking me.

I don't know how guilty I'd feel if I did that and made a mistake. I know that, at the time, I'd have not felt at all guilty. A year, two years on... I don't know. Didn't come up, and I'm not of a mind to beat myself up for things that didn't happen. I've got enough things to deal with.

As for making it through a war... absent a weapon, or hostile intent, I'm not going to shoot anyone either, even when the ROE allowed it. No that's not true... but an ambush of the other side is different. Soldiers are strange beasts; we live with the knowledge that we might have to kill each other; and that we are more alike than we are different. That we are even more alike then the civilians we are serving.

So we can hoist a glass one day, and try to kill each other the next. It's just the way it goes.

I will say that your idea of hostile intent would be likely to change.

#75 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 12:20 AM:

I did a small breakout of the .pdf released by Waxman. It's up at Majikthise

#76 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 08:34 AM:

After listening to the NPR coverage of the congressional testimony, I have a small favor to ask of the powers that be. Don't convince the mercenaries working for Blackwater and other companies that many of them are likely to face prosecution under a Democratic regime, but not under a Republican one.

Humor a paranoid with delusions of understanding some game theory, here. Or at least reflect upon the phrase "nothing to lose." Thx.

#77 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 01:16 PM:


This Salon article makes some interesting points which I haven't seen touched on yet (as well as discussing just how much out of control the BW forces are).

First, there's the point that BW and other contractor forces are being used to subvert the Abrams Doctrine that has guided the structure of the post-Vietnam army. I see dissent as to whether the "total engagement" popular support tripwire was intended as part of the doctrine, but it's clear that intended or not, it has come into play; but the use of contractors has helped hide the size of the deployment and of the casualties involved. That's an issue of its own regardless of how these contractors perform.

But another point that the author makes is that the contractors are typically deployed strictly as security forces independent of overall occupation strategy. That's the kind of thing, it seems to me, that makes them a problem even when they aren't shooting people: they disrupt daily life in a very threatening way, and therefore increase resentment of us as occupiers. And furthermore, they do so in a way that maps us directly to the kind of tyrants they've always suffered under-- Blackwater as Republican Guard. It doesn't matter whether they're doing a bad job (by some perception) or not; their simple presence creates the (bad) impression. And since security is their mission above all else, they are inevitably going to shoot innocent people; regardless of how excusable it can be made to seem to us, it isn't going to be excused by the populace.

And the thing is that all of this applies even if they are perfectly trained. That they often are not, and that the whole affair is a boondoggle for the contracting companies, only makes it worse.

I'd forgotten the Good Omens bit. Sheesh.

#78 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 05:18 PM:
The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday to bring all private security contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan under a federal code of conduct, despite strong opposition from the White House and some Republican members of Congress.

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/homepage/story/20220.html

#79 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 07:05 PM:

Jim, now watch it die in the Senate.

#80 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 07:46 PM:

I finally got round to a new Blackwater post: How to Investigate Blackwater USA.

#81 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2007, 01:40 PM:

The White House said Wednesday that it supports accountability but "strongly opposes" the bill, calling the jurisdiction vague and saying the FBI offices would stretch the agency too thin. It expressed concerns that the bill would hurt intelligence operations if contractors were exposed through investigations.

Am I being a horrible Blame-America-Firster if I am inclined to believe that "stretch[ing] the [FBI] too thin" and "hurt[ing] intelligence operations" would be a good thing? I mean, really, more resources diverted toward policing those we license means less resources remaining with those oh-so-necessary intelligence operations such as "interrogating" prisoners and blowing up civilians, right?

*sigh*

#83 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 11:00 AM:

Blackwater isn't just screwing the US and Iraq: they're screwing their own employees:

The congressman leading an investigation into Blackwater said Monday that the embattled security company may have evaded tens of millions of dollars in federal taxes and was seeking to hide its tax practices.

Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, said that Blackwater has avoided paying Social Security, Medicare and unemployment taxes by treating its armed guards as independent contractors and not employees.

The other two large private security companies in Iraq, DynCorp and Triple Canopy, classify their guards as employees and pay the federal taxes that Blackwater has not, Waxman said.

#84 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 11:19 AM:

Jim

I wonder if the lawyers and accountants ever explained the Microsoft contractor case to Erik Prince. Or if they did, and he ignored them.

#85 ::: Ryan Boutet ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2014, 01:42 PM:

It's going to be ending of mine day, but before ending I am reading this fantastic piece of writing to improve my knowledge.

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