On Jan. 29th, 2009, the Iraqi government officially barred the company formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide from providing security protection for U.S. diplomats. The reasoning behind this decision was that the company had used “excessive force” in carrying out its missions. (1)
Blackwater Worldwide, now renamed Xe (pronounced “Zee”), has become a favorite target of the American Left. (2)
Since an incident in September of 2007 in which 17 Iraqis were killed in Baghdad's Nisoor square, allegedly by Blackwater guards providing security, the company has been maligned as an outfit of mercenary, trigger happy maniacs. (3) (All five former Blackwater employees have pled not guilty to federal charges brought against them stemming from that incident.) (4)
Go to any online news piece regarding Blackwater, and watch the trolls come out in the comments. Take these samples from a Washington Post Article (5):
Commenter Jhiggins: “Blackwater is a criminal enterprise and its evangelical fundamentalist founder, Erik Prince, is a war profiteer. Blackwater is really a danger to our democracy—fifth column, if you will.” *
Commenter BlueTwo1: “We have experienced what it is like to live under evangelical, ultra-right-wing plutocrats. They do what they please. They do it in secret. They flout the laws. They gum up the works so they won't be questioned let alone prosecuted.” *
And in 2004, Democratic strategist Markos Moulitsos Zuniga of the Daily Kos had two choice words for four Blackwater members who were killed, and their bodies mutilated and dragged in Fallujah:
“Screw them.” (6)
This kind of slander is not limited to internet comments.
Trial lawyer Mike Papantonio, Air America (non)radio host and founder of GoLeft.tv, sums up all the leftist Blackwater smears rather neatly in his recent piece for the Pensacola News Journal. (7)
The “mercenary organization” was started by “phenomenally rich multimillionare inheritance baby Erik Prince.”(7)
It has “independent, unchecked power,” and is “creepy” and “unregulated.” (7)
America's military has won “two world wars without the help of American mercenaries.” (7)
And the coup de grace: “Soldiers enlisted in the U.S. military get paid about $70 a day to put themselves in harm's way, while Mr. Prince's private soldier gets about $1,500 a day for facing the same risks.” (7)
Where, oh where, to begin?
A blogger by the handle of Standish has a one-stop shop for rebutting this tripe. (The excellent blog, Blackwater Facts, is well worth your time.)
First and foremost, Blackwater is not a mercenary company. (8)
The international legal definition of the term comes from the 1977 Protocol 1 Amendment to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. There are six elements required for individuals or organizations to be considered mercenary. (8)
Among these are that the individuals must not be “either a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict.” They must “be recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict.” And they must be motivated “essentially by the desire for private gain” and promised “compensation substantially in excess of [that paid] to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party.” (9)
Blackwater's employees are nationals of the United States. Many of them are ex-military.
They are contracted by the U.S. State Department not to fight, but to “do security guard, logistics work, training and related jobs abroad.” (8)
In the words of Erik Prince (a former Navy Seal) himself, “We perform no offensive missions.” (10)
(The man was a Navy Seal, the elitist of the elite amongst our brave men and women in uniform. But obviously, to the Left, he's living from the silver spoon because he created an international security company. The notion is so ludicrous it would be laughable...were it not so detestable.)
Furthermore, consider these words of a Blackwater official (emphasis mine):
[Blackwater] is a company that was founded and exists to save lives. Everything is done in the interest of safety: training troops to defend themselves; building armored personnel carriers to keep troops alive in battle; building airships for surveillance to detect the bad guys; teaching cops how to effectively and safely rescue a hostage; helping people in executive-protection roles avoid an ambush in a vehicle; building an aviation division capable of performing rescue missions in war zones and natural disasters...In Katrina alone, 128 people were pulled to safety before a contract was ever awarded. In more than 20,000 diplomatic missions, no one protected by Blackwater has ever been seriously injured. (10)
Sure. Screw them. Right, Daily Kos?
(Remind me again, aren't we still stuck on the terrible response to Katrina, and by the way, how it was ALL Bush's fault?
Guess we all know the rules here. We can't give any credit to heroes who saved lives, or anything that went right in the hurricane's aftermath. Especially when, you know, the life savers are crazy right wing trigger happy monsters....)
And with regards to the motivations of Blackwater employees, and their supposedly outlandish pay?
Here's Standish on the former:
...Papantonio is slandering American veterans who return from their private lives to serve their country again in wartime. The story of helicopter pilot Art Laguna, who gave his life in defense of a trapped diplomat US diplomat in Iraq two years ago, shows the caliber of the military vets who join Blackwater: Unusually dedicated people. (8)
And concerning the money these “mercenaries” are supposedly rolling in?
This is nonsense, an allegation that was debunked during a congressional hearing nearly a year-and-a-half ago, and by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in August 2008. Blackwater guards make only a fraction [of $1,500 a day], and they have to pay their own expenses, from food, housing and healthcare to self-employment taxes and other items that soldiers receive as part of their non-taxable benefits. (8)
Mr. Papantonio's knowledge of American history is lacking as well.
The use of private contractors by the U.S. in wartime is hardly unique to Iraq.
The American Volunteer Group (AVG), i.e. the “Flying Tigers,” led by Claire Chennault, were “a private air force of American aviators who fought the Japanese in Burma, China, and Australia” in World War II. (8)
Washington and Jefferson both dabbled in private military companies, the former for the Revolutionary War, the latter to assist the Marines and Navy in engaging the Barbury Coast Pirates. (8)
“Privateering is one of the few businesses specifically authorized in the US Constitution, under the 'letters of marque and reprisal' clause in Article I, Section 8. Papantonio is a trial lawyer who doesn't even know the Constitution.” (8)
Oh, and since Mr. Papantonio has already changed the meaning of the word “mercenary,” perhaps he will be kind enough to provide us with a new definition of the word “unchecked.” As in “unchecked power.” Seeing as the State Department, the Justice Department, the Commerce Department and the Defense Department all have authority over Blackwater, I would be interested to know what “checked power” is. (8)
Now as to the tragic Sept. 2007 incident in which 17 Iraqis were killed. (“Screw them” when Blackwater employees die, string 'em up without a trial when they stand accused. Lovely standard we have for them, isn't it?)
First of all, Blackwater was accused of firing first without motive or provocation by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. (11)
As Chris Taylor wrote in 2007:
The MoI is the same organization the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq only two weeks ago called a 'ministry in name only' because it is ineffectual, inefficient, and sectarian. It is common knowledge that the MoI, infested with corruption and extortion, is now fully infiltrated by Jaysh al-Mahdi militia. (11)
So, we should trust that fine, upstanding civic organization instead of our own men who were fired upon, according to your Justice Department.
Radio recordings and transcripts from the incident clearly indicate a prevalent use of the word “Contact!” just prior to the exchange of fire. “Contact” is a term for coming under enemy attack. The gunfire from said enemy was audible on the radio as well. (12, 13)
There are those bullet holes that magically found their way into all four vehicles of the convoy. (12)
There is the lead vehicle that somehow managed to be disabled by this “nonexistent” enemy fire. (13)
And there is the fact that the prosecution's star witness, an ex-Blackwater employee who admitted to killing civilians, did so in exchange for a lighter sentence. (14) As Standish writes, the prosecutors don't even know who shot whom, and yet all five men in this case are each charged with fourteen counts of manslaughter. (4)
Finally, about Blackwater's “excessive force"?
As of October 2007, through over 16,000 diplomatic movements, Blackwater employees had discharged their firearms a mere 195 times. (11)
And their rules of engagement were given to them by the State Department. It's all in the contract.
As R.J. Hillhouse wrote for the Christian Science Monitor:
“The State Department Diplomatic Security Service set up aggressive rules for the use of force for its contractors in what's called the Mission Firearms Policy. These rules are more aggressive than those used by the military for its contracted forces.” (15)
Those aggressive rules were put in place in order to make it easier to protect important diplomats and government officials, Iraqi and American alike. And as Chris Taylor notes, Blackwater for years has appealed to Congress to make nebulous elements of these combat protocols more specific, to improve accountability and lessen the chances of collateral damage. (11)
What happened at Nisoor Square was a tragedy, no question, and the loss of life must not be trivialized.
But what must also not be trivialized is the sacrifice, bravery, heroism, and valor of the men and women of Blackwater and many other private security companies.
They saved people in Katrina, and the Left spits on them.
Former soldiers volunteer to go back and place themselves directly in danger's path to protect people, and the Left calls them murderers and mercenaries.
They are our fellow American brothers and sisters, but to some, they don't deserve even a day in court.
Marybeth Laguna, widow of helicopter pilot Art Laguna, summed it up thus:
Just like soldiers, security contractors based in Iraq face daily threats to their lives. Rather than demonizing these men and women, we should be thanking them for the essential service they provide. Whether they are working for Blackwater or directly for the U.S. military, they are all risking their lives to work for the United States. And they deserve our respect. (16)
Truer words were never written.
Least we could do.
ARTICLES AND WEBPAGES CITED
1. Associated Press, A look at Blackwater in Iraq during the war, http://townhall.com/news/world/2009/01/29/a_look_at_blackwater_in_iraq_during_the_war (Jan. 29, 2009).
2. Standish, Blackwater Facts, Blackwater Retires Brand, Re-Names Its Units, http://blackblawg.blogspot.com/2009/02/blackwater-retires-brand-re-names-its.html (Feb. 17, 2009).
3. CBS News, Blackwater Guards Indicted for Shooting, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/12/05/national/main4649532.shtml?tag=topHome;topStories (Dec. 5, 2008).
4. Standish, Blackwater Facts, “NOT GUILTY”, http://blackblawg.blogspot.com/2009/01/not-guilty.html (Jan. 6, 2009).
5. Robert O'Harrow Jr., State Department Cancels Iraq Contract With Blackwater,
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/government-inc/2009/01/state_department_to_blackwater.html?wprss=government-inc (Jan. 30, 2009).
* These comments were placed on the above cited web article.
6. Michelle Malkin, MichelleMalkin.com, “SCREW THEM:” NOT A JOKE, http://michellemalkin.com/2005/04/01/screw-them-not-a-joke/ (Apr. 1, 2005).
7. Mike Papantonio, Blackwater quietly expanding its reach, http://www.pnj.com/article/20090121/OPINION/901210303/1161/NEWS01 (Jan. 21, 2009).
8. Standish, Blackwater Facts, Out of Control Buffoonery- Trial Lawyer Embarrasses Himself with Ill-Informed Hit Piece, http://blackblawg.blogspot.com/2009/01/out-of-control-buffoonery-trial-lawyer.html (Jan. 23, 3009).
9. Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts Art. 47.2 (June 8, 1977), http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/FULL/470?OpenDocument.
10. John McCaslin, Into Blackwater, http://townhall.com/columnists/JohnMcCaslin/2008/11/11/into_blackwater?page=1 (Nov. 11, 2008).
11. Chris Taylor, The Blackwater Bandwagon, http://townhall.com/columnists/ChrisTaylor/2007/10/04/the_blackwater_bandwagon (Oct. 7, 2007).
12. Standish, Blackwater Facts, Independent Source Verifies Blackwater Team Was Under Fire at Nisoor Square, http://blackblawg.blogspot.com/2008/12/independent-source-verifies-blackwater.html (Dec. 22, 2008).
13. Standish, Blackwater Facts, Radio Logs Prove Blackwater Convoy Was Under Fire at Nisoor Square, http://blackblawg.blogspot.com/2008/12/radio-logs-prove-blackwater-convoy-was.html (Dec. 21, 2008).
14. Standish. Blackwater Facts, AP Says New Evidence Discredits Federal Case Against Ex-Blackwater Guards, http://blackblawg.blogspot.com/2008/12/ap-says-new-evidence-discredits-federal.html (Dec. 21, 2008).
15. R.J. Hillhouse, Don't Blame Blackwater, http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1102/p09s01-coop.html (Nov. 2, 2007).
16. Marybeth Laguna, My Husband Was a Blackwater Hero, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/28/AR2008112802283.html (Nov. 30, 2008).