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Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Gadflyer: Fly Trap

Once, on a Caribbean island, I met a grizzled old man who told me that when he was a boy of about twelve an American Navy officer had offered him an opportunity for adventure: he could travel to the Philippines -- where the U.S. occupation forces were ruthlessly suppressing a domestic insurgency -- and get $5 dollars for the head of each rebel he turned in to the Marines.

The image of the boy on an island far from home, swapping severed heads for a fin -- conveyed to me with an off-putting smile decades later by the old man he had become -- has stuck with me ever since. He'd been a twelve year-old, Third World mercenary in the employ of the world's most powerful nation.

I thought about that when I read that private U.S. military firms are reportedly recruiting men in the Philippines to serve in Iraq (but not to cut off anybody's head). Things seem to have come full circle:

Outgoing Labor chief Patricia Sto. Tomas will look into the reported recruitment of Filipino mercenaries to serve as private armies of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sto. Tomas reacted to reports that several Pinoys [a term for Filipinos] either in active service or AWOL of the military and police are being lured to join the training for mercenaries in Iraq in Subic [Bay] and Clark [Field].

The labor chief admitted that the recruitment could not be stopped since these are done surreptitiously by some American firms …

[It was reported] that about 300 Pinoys have already been recruited to be trained as mercenaries in exchange for about $1,200 to $5,000 take-home pay.

What American firms, you wonder?

Several newspapers in Manila reported on Friday [June 9] that the American company Blackwater USA was using the former US naval base to recruit Filipino mercenaries to fight in Iraq.

The news reports even featured pictures of Filipino-looking men wearing combat fatigues during what appears to be guard duty in an alleged Middle East community.

Philippine officials deny the stories.

But Blackwater officials don't deny that they're opening a training facility down there:

Blackwater executives say they plan to soon open a branch facility in southern California and a jungle survival skills training center on the site of the former Subic Bay naval base in the Philippines.

Both projects will be smaller versions of Blackwater's 7,000-acre compound in Camden and Currituck counties, where thousands of military and law enforcement personnel come each year for training.

This is a global phenomenon. Recall this:

In a very discreet operation, US and British security sub-contractors are seeking out Indian ex-servicemen known for their professionalism and discipline for deployment in Iraq.

Moves by the coalition forces to outsource security are a result of the alarming increase in casualties, with indications of the war dragging on for some time… For the retired lowly paid Indian soldier, the money being doled out is attractive and difficult to refuse.

And this:

Private security firms contracted with the Pentagon and the State Department are dipping into experienced pools of trained fighters throughout Central and South America for their new recruits…

Throughout Latin America there have been numerous press reports of contracting and subcontracting firms recruiting in Chile, Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Each of the countries has had recent - and in Colombia's case, ongoing - wars, which make for large pools of experienced military and police.

And this:

The United Nations recently reported that South Africa "is already among the top three suppliers of personnel for private military companies, along with the UK and the US." There are more than 1,500 South Africans in Iraq today, most of whom are former members of the South African Defense Force and South African Police.

That's Empire. You wouldn't want to have to draft your fat and content citizenry to fill out the ranks of those killing and dying on its fringes, would you?

Some say there's nothing wrong with all of this; it's perfectly legal -- the marvel of the free market at work -- and entirely natural that we'd have 20,000 "security contractors" in Iraq.

And they're right, except for the fact that these firms drain off experienced career officers (often trained on the taxpayers' dime), cost a fortune and are -- in many circumstances -- immunized from prosecution for any crimes they might commit (which, of course, get laid at all of our doorsteps). That last one is an issue that can only get worse as they dig deeper into the bottom of the barrel to get experienced personnel.

In the staid prose of the Congressional Research Service:

Of immediate concern to some policymakers is whether the United States' commitment to observe and promote human rights and humanitarian law is undermined by the types of personnel hired by some contractors. For some policymakers, the reported employment of South Africans who served in the military during the years of apartheid, one of whom reportedly has confessed to human rights abuse, and of Chileans, who reportedly served during the period of military rule, is problematic. Employment of such personnel indicates not only a lack of transparency in the U.S. contracting system, as the names of those contracted is kept confidential, but also a lack of adherence by contractors to U.S. foreign policy interests and goals. At best, some argue, it sends dubious signals about U.S. seriousness about human rights and, at worst, raises the possibility that such contractors may commit abuses in Iraq, for which the United States may be responsible under international law.

They already have. Let's not forget Seymour Hersh's report that "military-intelligence teams, which included C.I.A. officers and linguists and interrogation specialists from private defense contractors, were the dominant force inside Abu Ghraib."

*Technically, the CRS says, the firms in Iraq may not qualify as mercenaries -- there are no private firms conducting direct combat operations. However, many are armed, and in a place like Iraq the distinction between combat and support is often blurry, as many incidents have shown.

Copyright © Joshua Holland. Material presented on The Gadflyer is the opinion of the respective author and not that of The Gadflyer, the web host or any other entity.
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The Gadflyer: Fly Trap

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