"Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army" :: Book Review ::

It’s a big, evil secret behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq – a 100,000 strong mercenary force that the Bush administration has hired to do the U.S. government’s riskiest and dirtiest operations. It works behind the scenes and is virtually above the law.

Its name is Blackwater USA — and it’s a private army with a license to kill.

More evil still is the fact that Blackwater USA is run by a multimillionaire Christian fundamentalist who has also bankrolled President Bush’s election campaigns. And what makes the whole exercise so frightening is that American mainstream media – supposedly the champions of free inquiry – have never bothered to investigate the issue. In fact, a recent book that reveals stunning information about this massive secret army has received no significant coverage at all.

Jeremy Scahill’s just-published 450-page, "Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army," [1] uncovers a story of deception and intrigue whose moral is that some of America’s richest and most powerful have no respect for human lives.

Welcome to George W. Bush’s U.S.A. where secret civilian hired guns can use any means to justify the Administration’s ends.

The idea is devilishly simple: offer killing contracts to privately-run militias and pay them handsomely to do the job – no questions asked. It is a turnkey system in which the Bush administration pays, and Blackwater kills.

And that’s not all. If and when U.S. troops are withdrawn from Iraq, Blackwater operatives can stay.

According to Scahill, the idea of hiring a mercenary army was the brainchild of Donald Rumsfeld. On September 10, 2001 (only one day before the fateful 9/11) he pitched the concept to a high-level Pentagon meeting attended by former corporate executives from Enron, Northrop, Grumman, General Dynamics and Aerospace Corp.

All were chosen by Rumsfeld to work with him as top deputies at the Department of Defense. At that meeting Rumsfeld outlined his strategy for using "the private sector in the waging of America’s wars," a strategy supported by the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith.

Blackwater is controlled by one person, Erik Prince, described by Scahill as "a radical right-wing Christian mega-millionaire who has served as a major bankroller not only of President Bush’s campaigns but the broader Christian-right agenda."

The 38-year-old Prince is a former U.S. Navy officer who serves on the board of Christian Freedom International, whose mission is to help "Christians who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ."

Price started Blackwater in 1995 at age 27, after his father died and left him a $1.3 billion automobile parts firm. Prince’s first wife died of cancer in 2003 and he has six children.

As Scahill quotes him, Prince speaks proudly about his soldiers-for-hire company: "When you ship overnight, do you use the postal service or do you use FedEx? Our corporate goal is to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did to the postal service."

In Iraq, Blackwater is free to hire whomever it pleases — Iraqis, Americans, Israelis… Its mercenaries get paid $300 to $600 a day, a big contrast to what men and women in the official American armed forces earn.

But there is also another difference: when Blackwater soldiers are killed, they are not heroes. In fact, they are not even acknowledged. They are not added into the American casualty totals, nor are their coffins draped in the American flag.

Whatever they do is secret and there is no accountability for why or how they kill Iraqis.

Paul Bremer, Bush’s envoy in Iraq during the first year of the occupation, issued a decree on June 28, 2004 granting immunity to Blackwater and other military "contractors" from prosecution for war crimes. Blackwater was even able to bypass the Pentagon’s Uniform Code of Military Justice, claiming its soldiers are "civilians."

In a public hearing, Congressman Dennis Kucinich lamented that, "These private contractors can get away with murder. [They] do not appear to be subject to any laws at all and so therefore they have more of a license… to take the law into their own hands."

As the Administration is planning to increase the size of the army in Iraq at a cost of anywhere from $3.6 billion to 4 billion, Prince has also been talking about building a permanent "contractor brigade" and doing it cheaper.

In praising Scahill, Canadian reviewer Naomi Klein said: "[His book shows] how the Bush administration has spent hundreds of millions of public dollars building a parallel corporate army, an army so royal to far right causes … [It is] the most important and chilling book about the death throes of the U.S. democracy you will read in years and a triumph of investigative reporting."


[1]. "Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army"
by Jeremy Scahill