Death From All Sides
An extensive evidence file assembled by the Iraqi National Police after the controversial Blackwater shooting suggests that the private contractors opened fire unprovoked from the ground and the sky.
Sept. 30, 2007 - Since the fatal Sept. 16 Blackwater USA shooting in Baghdad’s Nasoor Square, officials from the private security company have insisted that their guards were responding to fire from “armed enemies.” Yet an extensive evidence file put together by the Iraqi National Police and obtained by NEWSWEEK—including documents, maps, sworn witness statements and police video footage—appears to contradict the contractors’ version of events. A confidential incident report, which has been provided by Iraqi National Police investigators to American military and civilian officials, concludes that the Blackwater vehicles “opened fire crazily and randomly, without any reason.”I discussed the problem of Blackwater and other "security" contractors here and yesterday Robert Kaplan wrote in the Atlantic:
A nine-minute police video made in the moments after the shooting shows helicopters similar to those used by Blackwater still hovering over the wreckage of charred, smoking and bullet-pocked cars. (For an edited clip of the video, click here.) The graphic images include footage of burned human remains and show the street littered with brass bullet casings. They also show what appears to be a police officer waving a pistol at the scene; the footage was captured by a different police officer, who had run over from the nearby Iraqi National Police headquarters. (Portions of the video have been previously broadcast; it was recorded without sound.)
Iraqi National Police investigators also believe that Blackwater's helicopters fired on the cars from above, according to confidential police documents and interviews with senior police officials. A memo written on Sept. 17 by the lead Iraqi police investigator states that shortly after the shooting began, “helicopters opened fire from the air toward the cars and civilians.” Gen. Hussein al-Awadi, the commander of the Iraqi National Police, told NEWSWEEK that the trajectory of some of the bullet wounds could only have been caused by fire from the air. “If anyone moved—whenever they saw someone leaving—either the convoy or the chopper shot him,” says Ali Kalaf Salman, an undercover Iraqi National Police officer who was working as a traffic cop at the scene. (One of the police documents lists 17 fatalities and many more wounded from the shooting. Other accounts have put the death toll at 11.)
The idea of a large American military presence anywhere without contractors is now unthinkable. Without firms like KBR, the support tail in Iraq would be infinitely longer than it is, with tens of thousands of more troops required to achieve the same result. Buildings need to be maintained; chow halls have to be run; showers and restrooms need to be cleaned. Mundane activities like these account for the bulk of what private contractors do.But as Josh Marshall points out this dependence on military contractors was not inevitable but a choice that was made.
The obvious rejoinder to this argument is, well, what did we do in the old days? As in, in Vietnam, Korea, all over Europe during the Cold War, etc. etc. And the obvious answer is nearly all these things used to be done by the military.I think that a case can be made for contracting at least some of the construction projects but we are seeing the problems that result from unaccountable private armies. And there is this from Josh;
So what happened? Policy decisions were made, largely but not entirely during the 1980s, to privatize big chunks of war-fighting and war-support. It's true that in the short-term these services are indispensable to a mission like Bosnia. But that's only because we made the decision to phase out those capacities in the military. So their indispensability tells us nothing about whether this heavy reliance on contractors is a good idea; it just tells us we've made the decision to rely on them.
In a lot of cases what you're doing is building up a constituency of private contractors who cherry-pick the best people and then hire them back to the military at exorbitant prices. So the same folks who would be doing Job X for the US Army are now doing it for Blackwater for the US Army -- only now Blackwater CEO Erik Prince gets to pull down a big chunk of taxpayer dollars too.Now we are getting to what it's all about. The Republicans and probably some who call themselves Democrats dont really think anything is worth doing unless someone can skim 20% off the top and get very rich. This brings us to SCHIP; the Bush administration and many Republicans fear it because they see it as one step closer to a single payer health care system. In the countries that have a single payer system overhead consists of 3% or less of the health care dollars spent - in the US it's 20%. Where does that difference go. It's skimmed off the top to make a few people very rich, that's where.