An Army Incorporated

There is a private army for hire in Iraq with no rules of engagement.

Despite an initial ban by the Iraqi government, Blackwater USA, a private American security contractor, returned to operations in Iraq less than a week after at least eight Iraqis were killed by Blackwater guards Sept. 16.

Blackwater USA, along with some 25 other private security firms, is employed through contracts awarded by the U.S. government worth hundreds of millions of dollars. These contractors, estimated 20,000 to 30,000 in manpower, operate apart from the U.S. military, though they provide similar services.

Primarily, Blackwater protects American officials and diplomats as they move through the streets of Iraq. Though this is neither unique to nor more difficult than what is asked of any U.S. soldier, some contractors earn as much as $1,000 a day – 10 times as much as the lowest-paid soldier.

Yet, both the soldier and the contractor are paid with U.S. tax dollars. President George W. Bush has opposed Congress-supported additional wage increases for the underpaid U.S. military, while he has granted multimillion dollar contracts to companies such as Blackwater for use essentially as mercenaries. U.S. warfare has become privatized.

In the first year of Iraq’s occupation U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III, according to The New York Times, “exempted security companies and their employees from accountability under Iraqi law for the deaths and injuries caused in the execution of their duties.” In December 2006, a Blackwater employee killed a bodyguard of the Iraqi vice president during an argument. The mercenary faced no punishment and was simply sent home. Congress has asked the Pentagon to hold contractors accountable, just as U.S. soldiers, but nothing has been done. There is a U.S. army for hire in Iraq with no rules of engagement. No one should be free to kill without consequence.

As President Dwight D. Eisenhower said as he left the White House in 1961, “America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.” Protecting Blackwater’s contractors from the rule of law is a misuse of that power.