Monday, September 24, 2007


Private security firm Blackwater USA has been in the news this week for the wrong reasons. Blackwater has been contracted out in Iraq to provide security for US diplomats and civilian construction workers. This is a paramilitary force with little accountability that has taken on the functions of the US military. In her book The End of America, Naomi Wolf points to use of paramilitary forces as a sign that a civilization is on the road to dictatorship.

Now, I don't know about all that. I saw Ms. Wolf on the Daily Show the other night arguing that we've seen 10 such signs hit in the last few years, but I don't understand if she's expecting next November's elections to be mysteriously called off for some reason, or what.

Either way, Blackwater, with its ominous name and logo, does sound like something out of a science fiction movie. And now they're facing some serious charges. About a week ago, Blackwater agents were in a gun battle in downtown Baghdad in which they killed 20 Iraqi civilians. The Iraqi government had been looking to file criminal charges; however, according to US statutes, private security firms, and their 25,000 employees in the country, are immune from prosecution by the Iraqi government.

From Iraqi officials, who claim the shootings were unprovoked, dispute Blackwater's claim that the guards were responding to an attack and said on Saturday they had a videotape showing the Blackwater guards opened fire without provocation. The incident prompted the Iraqi government to call for Blackwater's expulsion from the country and sparked anger among Iraqis.

Secretary of State Rice has been working to smooth things over, and right now it doesn't seem like Blackwater is going anywhere. Even on the heels of another report that Blackwater employees were engaged in black-market weapons trade, stealing from the company's arsenal and selling guns and ammo smuggled into Iraq.

200 private contractors have given their lives bravely working in Iraq. However, the whole idea of Blackwater makes me queasy. It's just one more case of the private sector taking responsibility and government function, one more company that's gotten insanely rich from this war, and just one more thing to worry about.

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