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Sunday, October 24, 2010

When the mercenary media perceives a kindred spirit

A few friends have tried to draw me into discussing issues surrounding the U.S. mid-term elections, and I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I have had to shrug and sit quietly on the sidelines. You see, not only do I not understand most of the core issues, but I am completely baffled by the vocabulary being used to discuss the issues.

I'm sure part of my confusion can be blamed on the fact that I've been away for so long. But I can't help but feel that people with a vested interested in having the public remain fuzzy on the issues are quite pleased with the obfuscating affect that their 'newspeak' has on public debate.

A good example of this is the term 'contractor' which has been all over the news recently.

I don't know about you, but when I see the term 'contractor', I think of a stubbly-faced guy in a plaid flannel shirt and hard hat who you hire to arrange for cement guys, framers, brick masons, electricians, sheet-rockers, roofers, painters, etc., to rotate through a job-site until the dust settles to reveal a new house. Doing some home improvement or adding on? The same guy and his crews will do the heavy lifting... you just write the checks.

But when I was reading an article in the Times over the weekend about 'Contractors' in Iraq and Afghanistan... I have to admit I was completely baffled. I couldn't understand how a bunch of guys who were hired to build stuff could be blamed for the ongoing chaos and bedlam holding sway in those places.

And then I started noticing that the word 'contractor' was frequently used interchangeably with the term 'Private Security Firm'... and I got even more confused.

Private security firms are rent-a-cops. They're the guys you see at shopping malls and universities. They have barely enough authority to hold a shoplifter or a rowdy teenager until the real cops arrive, so what the hell would a 'Private Security Firm' be doing in a war zone?

As I read more it finally dawned on me. 'Contractors' and 'Private Security Firms' are the current newspeak for 'mercenaries'.

Think I'm wrong?

Here's a working deinition of a mercenary:

A mercenary is a person who takes part in an armed conflict, who is not a national or a party to the conflict, and is "motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party". [the quoted text above is taken directly from Protocol I of the Geneva Convention]

According to the Times article, the U.S., U.K. and many other countries have (pretty much from the start) supplemented their armed presence in Iraq and Afghanistan with huge numbers of mercenaries; far more, in fact than their official military deployments.

What's worse, even though they are paying these mercenaries, the coalition governments and their official military forces have absolutely no control over the actions of these so-called 'contractors'. There is absolutely no enforcement of rules of engagement, no chain of command, and most importantly, no consequences for the countless atrocities that, if committed by one of the official uniformed forces, would quite correctly be labeled war crimes.

After reading about how these so-called 'contractors' had been allowed by the U.S. and U.K. (and their other coalition partners), to ride around Iraq and Afghanistan as an authority unto themselves, gunning down civilians and even killing members of the coalitions forces, all the while getting paid far more then even the most senior of the official military forces (see the definition above)... my blood began to boil.

How dare the American and European governments sit in judgement of Israel's military?

How dare they hire mercenaries and allow them to commit the most unspeakable war crimes... and then hold us responsible for the regrettable-but-justifiable civilian casualties in our defensive military operations?

How dare they lecture us about safeguarding civilians when they deploy unaccountable mercenaries in civilian areas who routinely shoot first and ask questions later (if at all).

The media may be willing to play along with the governments and avoid the distasteful term 'mercenary' in favor of the more polite 'Contractors' and 'Private Security Firms'. But that kind of window-dressing doesn't change the terrible facts on the ground or hide the hypocrisy.

If the US and European electorates/media aren't willing to hold their own governments responsible for countless honest-to-goodness war crimes being committed by their hired mercenaries, they had better get used to having us call bullsh*t on their kneejerk condemnations of the Israeli government and the the IDF.

/rant

Posted by David Bogner on October 24, 2010 | Permalink

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Uh, no kidding.

The contractors were hired to provide security for government officials serving in war zones, instead of having the military do the job. The record on their actions is decidedly mixed, and points up the hypocrisy in the public stance of a few of the Western Nations engaged in war zones.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Oct 24, 2010 2:52:42 PM

According to the Times article, the U.S., U.K. and many other countries have (pretty much from the start) supplemented their armed presence in Iraq and Afghanistan with huge numbers of mercenaries; far more, in fact than their official military deployments.
A former student of mine, who studied in France and then in the UK, did her thesis on this topic. I'd also worry about the kind of information that could "leak" from such people. I have a feeling they have no particular loyalty to the countries they are supposed to work for, as opposed to serve.
I agree with the rest of your post of course.

Posted by: Ilana-Davitata | Oct 24, 2010 3:23:44 PM

I agree with Ilana's agreeing. And I think you should send today's blog entry to the New York Times. Well written, as usual.

Posted by: Marsha in Englewood | Oct 24, 2010 4:17:29 PM

I'm still amazed at how unbalanced you've gotten over the last 7 years - it's great to see! A little to the right, a little more, a little more...there you go. :)

Posted by: Yeshara | Oct 24, 2010 6:56:14 PM

This is SO correct. Buncha hypocrites.

Posted by: Mark | Oct 24, 2010 9:25:49 PM

The mercenaries outnumbered actual service personnel 3 to 1. What were they doing, aside from stealing? They were guarding American installations like the rockin' new embassy and, of course, the oil fields. Worst of all, they were assassins for hire - not of terrorists or of insurgency bank-rollers, but of US service members who objected to their activities. While the US military was assigned the fool's errand of winning hearts and minds, Blackwater (now Xe), Triple Canopy, Khaki et. al., were telling the military where they could and could not go. Indeed, the military had to plan with mercenary allowance, so as not to disturb their schemes (let's just say they also fancy themselves as "corporate" intelligence services). As an Israeli adviser and translator for the US military, they threatened me and the unit I was with when I told them we would not be taking their orders and they could either help us or stand down. Their response was "You never know what kind of accidents happen out here." I was pulled out and harsh words were exchanged up the line, but I do not know what became of it. Probably nothing.

Of course, the contractors had an easy time recruiting military personnel when their hitch was up. You can work up a real head of steam when you've watched your buddies hit by IEDs or when you discover that you've been given non- potable water to drink by Brown & Root or you were nearly electrocuted in a shower rigged up by yet more contractors who weren't doing their jobs. You spent long days boiling or freezing, with no sense of mission (you know you're at that point when everyone starts saying "Well, I'm a soldier and I'm doing what my Commander in Chief asks me to do,") and morale was in the toilet due to extended deployments. The mercenaries could really let you get your anger on, without recourse to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and they paid well, too.

Posted by: Gramoflanz | Oct 24, 2010 9:54:41 PM

For me as a cynical American who understands himself to be living under corporate feudalism the rule is:

אל תקרא קונטראקטור אלא מרסנרי

תשמר, פן מדינת ישראל יהיה כמו ארצות הברית - אפשר לראות את הסימנים בחדשות

Posted by: Rich | Oct 25, 2010 9:58:29 PM

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