Friday, November 17, 2006

Soldier Of Fortune

It's difficult to begrudge someone who served in the regular army for the usual pud pay, when the opportunity arises for them to make what the private sector offers by incorporating the risk premium and passing it on to the US taxpayers. Perhaps it's a way for them to recoup some of the opportunity cost. So we certainly hope that the four hostages are returned safe and unharmed.

But let's face it -- if this wasn't an inside job by our Iraqi proxies, it's a damned good impression of such.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The mystery surrounding the kidnapping of four American security contractors and their Austrian co-worker deepened on Friday, a day after their convoy was hijacked by about 30 gunmen in Iraqi police uniforms in a rugged desert strip near Iraq's border with Kuwait.

A British spokesman for coalition forces in southern Iraq said the brazen seizure of the convoy, believed to include more than 50 vehicles, was rare in that sliver of Iraq.

A senior Iraqi police official in Basra said the convoy included 43 heavy trucks and six security vehicles, some of them intended for Iraqi police use.

One of the trucks contained weapons destined for Iraqi security forces, the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to make public statements. The attackers made off with about half the vehicles in the convoy, leaving the rest abandoned, Iraqi police and witnesses said.


The role of security contractors in Iraq has been a controversial one, with critics complaining that the business is largely unregulated and that contractors often take on dangerous assignments without the benefit of the armor and weaponry that U.S. troops would have.

The Crescent Security Group, one of dozens of such private security firms at work in Iraq, "conducts convoy escort duties for an ever growing number of coalition militaries, embassies, government contractors, private enterprise" and other clients, according to the firm's Web site. It says Crescent employs Western and Iraqi security contractors. It was unclear whether armed Iraqis, in addition to the four Americans and the Austrian, were traveling with the convoy.

The role of private security contractors in Iraq has been murky at best, but the bottom line is that they are not accountable for their involvement in some infamous scandals which have resulted in regular service personnel being court-martialed and imprisoned. Not only aren't private contractors accountable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, they're not liable under either the civil law of the country they operate in or domestic law. They operate in a very grey area legally.

William Lawson, the uncle of Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick, one of the soldiers named in the report who is currently facing a court martial, told CorpWatch that his nephew told the family that the company employees were partially responsible for the abuses.

"He tried to complain and that he was told by superior officers to follow instructions from civilians, contract workers interrogating the Iraqi prisoners. They said go back down there. Do what the civilian contractors tell you to do and don't interfere with them and loosen these soldiers up for interrogation."

Lawson says that the company employees should be investigated and prosecuted if necessary. "I've spent 23 years in the military including time in Vietnam. I love this country but I will not allow my nephew to be used as a scapegoat," he said in a phone interview from his home in Newburg, West Virginia.

Don't get me wrong -- none of this absolves Chip Frederick or Charles Graner or Lynndie England or the rest of them, nor does it necessarily impute any wrongdoing to Paul Reuben and his fellow contractors. But it goes some distance in explaining the frustration and futility, the desperation felt by many Iraqis.

There is very little and very slow accountability for the things we eventually find out about here in the states. We have no idea if those things are the entirety of it, or if they merely scratch the surface. And if the latter, as seems likely, then it's now beyond whether we can muster the empathy to simply imagine what all we'd be capable of if we were in their place, what we'd do to counter mercenaries who were not providing security for us so much as for themselves and for the occupying force.

Even so, maybe finding that kernel of empathy would be a start.

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