An article in Harper’s Magazine details a forthcoming work titled The Warrior Class. The feature by journalist Charles Glass promises an in-depth look at the role of private military companies (the most infamous among them, the group formerly known as Blackwater, who recently changed their umbrella name to Academi) in Iraq and Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. This documentary also contains graphic video of alleged abuses against Iraqi and Afghani civilians during wartime (the Harper’s article released several of these videos) by such “mercenary” outfits including assault, intimidation and even murder.
CORRECTION: As of April 10, 2012 there is no documentary associated with these videos as originally reported. The videos will only be used in the feature in Harpers.
We have included some of these clips from The Warrior Class but we want to warn our readership that some may consider these videos graphic and disturbing. Accordingly, we recommend that they not be viewed by small children.
The first video shows a Blackwater convoy hitting a woman in a burka as she attempts to cross the street. A man says “Oh my God” but the group continues on without stopping. The second video shows alleged Blackwater employees shooting at civilian vehicles, purposely crashing into civilian cars as well as taunting passersby. The third video shows a Blackwater employee firing a rifle from a moving car at another car. All of these videos are from Blackwater (the video was to be used for promotional material for recruitment) and are set to pop music.
Though their role in the current Middle East conflict stretches back to the very start of the war in 2001, the extent to which private military contractors (they sometimes call themselves private security contractors as well, but seem to veer away from the term “mercenary”) have been enlisted by government agencies to fulfill tasks “normally” assigned to a country’s military forces, only now seems to be getting its turn under the media’s microscope. Indeed, the usefulness, legality and philosophy behind private contractors is an incredibly complex question without many black and white answers (and one Guns.com hopes to look at shortly in a future Special Report on the industry). To understand why our government would outsource its fighting though, all one needs to do is consider the mood back in at the turn of the millennium.
Post 2001, while transitioning from a one-front war (Afghanistan) to a two-front war (Afghanistan and Iraq), executive powers in both the government and military realized they could not mount the offensive needed to topple Saddam and then occupy the country during the inevitable power vacuum without reinstituting the draft (and if you can remember back to the political climate of the early 2000s, this would not have sat well with many Americans already tepid about the move into Iraq). In response, the government turned to both domestic and international (usually British) private security companies, specifically for special operations work and as security for heads of state.
Chief among these was Blackwater (the videos provided in this article allegedly show Blackwater employees), the world’s largest mercenary army claiming 3,000-5,000 employees (that’s like brigade size). Founded by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince in 1998, Blackwater trains military and law enforcement officers war tactics on their 7,000 acre training preserve in North Carolina. They also have an 80-acre facility a couple dozen miles west of Chicago. The US State Department contract with Blackwater was for billions of dollars with the average Blackwater employee costing taxpayers six times the amount of the average troop and making close to half a million dollars a year.
Blackwater responds to this claim that the price-tag is relative to the “quality” of soldier they produce. They also acknowledge that because they work for but do not represent a country, the rules of war don’t apply the them, which makes them more “expendable” in the eyes of military brass than the average servicemen (something they maintain more than justifies their high salaries).
In 2007, after a series of civilian shootings, the State Department severed ties with the organization, though they recently signed another billion dollar contract with the CIA in 2010.
As mentioned above, Guns.com will soon be looking at the murky and fascinating world of private armies in an upcoming Special Report so stay tuned.