Blackwater’s Youngest Victim

By Jeremy Scahill

January 28, 2010

Mohammed Kinani

Every detail of September 16, 2007, is burned in Mohammed Kinani’s memory. Shortly after 9 am he was preparing to leave his house for work at his family’s auto parts business in Baghdad when he got a call from his sister, Jenan, who asked him to pick her and her children up across town and bring them back to his home for a visit. The Kinanis are a tightknit Shiite family, and Mohammed often served as a chauffeur through Baghdad’s dangerous streets to make such family gatherings possible.

An accompanying slideshow of Ali Kinani, his family, and the Nisour massacre can be found here.

Mohammed had just pulled away from his family’s home in the Khadamiya neighborhood in his SUV. His youngest son, 9-year-old Ali, came tearing down the road after him, asking his father if he could accompany him. Mohammed told him to run along and play with his brothers and sister. But Ali, an energetic and determined kid, insisted. Mohammed gave in, and off the father and son went.

As Mohammed and Ali drove through Baghdad that hot and sunny Sunday, they passed a newly rebuilt park downtown. Ali gazed at the park and then turned to his father and asked, “Daddy, when are you gonna bring us here?”

“Next week,” Mohammed replied. “If God wills it, son.”

Ali would never visit that park. Within a few hours, he would be dead from a gunshot wound to the head. While you may have never heard his name, you probably know something about how Ali Mohammed Hafedh Kinani died. He was the youngest person killed by Blackwater forces in the infamous Nisour Square massacre.

In May 2008 Mohammed flew to Washington to testify in front of a grand jury investigating the shooting. It was his first time out of Iraq. The US Attorney, Jeffrey Taylor, praised Mohammed for his “commendable courage.” A year after the shooting, in December 2008, five Blackwater guards were indicted on manslaughter charges, while a sixth guard pleaded guilty to killing an unarmed Iraqi. American justice, it seemed to Mohammed, was working. “I’m a true believer in the justness and fairness of American law,” Mohammed said.

But this past New Year’s Eve, federal Judge Ricardo Urbina threw out all the criminal charges against the five Blackwater guards. At least seventeen Iraqis died that day, and prosecutors believed they could prove fourteen of the killings were unjustified. The manslaughter charges were dismissed not because of a lack of evidence but because of what Urbina called serious misconduct on the part of the prosecutors. Continue reading

Blackwater Guards Tied to Secret Raids by the C.I.A.

WASHINGTON — Private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide participated in some of the C.I.A.’s most sensitive activities — clandestine raids with agency officers against people suspected of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the transporting of detainees, according to former company employees and intelligence officials.

The raids against suspects occurred on an almost nightly basis during the height of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006, with Blackwater personnel playing central roles in what company insiders called “snatch and grab” operations, the former employees and current and former intelligence officers said.

Several former Blackwater guards said that their involvement in the operations became so routine that the lines supposedly dividing the Central Intelligence Agency, the military and Blackwater became blurred. Instead of simply providing security for C.I.A. officers, they say, Blackwater personnel at times became partners in missions to capture or kill militants in Iraq and Afghanistan, a practice that raises questions about the use of guns for hire on the battlefield. Continue reading

Blackwater Busted?

By Jeremy Scahill

November 14, 2008

AP Images
Plainclothes contractors working for Blackwater USA take part in a firefight, April 2004.

Plainclothes contractors working for Blackwater USA take part in a firefight, April 2004. AP Images</br>

After more than five years of rampant violence and misconduct carried out by the massive army of private corporate contractors in Iraq–actions that have gone totally unpunished under any system of law–the US Justice Department appears to be on the verge of handing down the first indictments against armed private forces for crimes committed in Iraq. The reported targets of the “draft” indictments: six Blackwater operatives involved in the September 16, 2007, killing of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

The Associated Press reports, “The draft is being reviewed by senior Justice Department officials but no charging decisions have been made. A decision is not expected until at least later this month.” The AP, citing sources close to the case, reports that the department has not determined if the Blackwater operatives would be charged with manslaughter or assault. Simply drafting the indictments does not mean that the Blackwater forces are certain to face charges. The department could indict as few as three of the operatives, who potentially face sentences of five to twenty years, depending on the charges.

If the Justice Department pursues a criminal prosecution, it would be the first time armed private contractors from the United States face justice.

But that is a very big “if.” Continue reading



Going 15 Rounds with Seymour Hersh


“I‘m having a horrible day,” grumbled Seymour Hersh, the 70 year-old Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, arguably the most revered of his time, and reporter for the prestigious New Yorker magazine.

Almost a week before, I called Seymour Hersh on a lark trying to score an interview regarding his New Yorker article “Shifting Targets: The Administration’s plan for Iran,” an explosive piece outlining the Bush Administration’s strategic and aggressive preparation for a potential attack on Iran. When Hersh writes, everyone reads, and the world pays attention.

Even The White House, through press secretary Dana Perino, was forced to respond to his article, publicly stating, “[The White House] is not going to comment on any possible scenario that an anonymous source continues to feed into Sy Hersh. We don’t discuss such things. We are pursuing a diplomatic solution in Iran.”

During our first phone call, Hersh sounded hurried and rushed, a habitual trait I noticed, preparing for an international phone interview. “Listen, I got a call coming in from overseas, it’s gonna’ come in any moment. Just give me a call at the office,” he informed me.

I persisted, “How about next week? We can do the interview over the phone. I can call-“

“No, no. I’m traveling to the West Coast next week. I’m busy, but give me a call the week after, all right? Let’s do this later. Call my office. Ok?”

“Great,” I replied and hung up the phone, ecstatic after scoring potential interview time with the Pulitzer winning journalist.

Fast forward one week, I’m casually sitting behind my desk with my laptop in front of me, calling Hersh’s office number to leave a message on his machine reminding him of the interview upon his return from the publicity trip.

The phone rings. It rings again. Instead of a soothing, feminine, robotic automated voice message, a surly and flustered voice answers, “Hello?”

“Um, uh, hey, Seymour? This is Wajahat ­”


“Uh, Wajahat Ali? Anyway, I wasn’t expecting you. I called to leave a message on your voice mail, and you pick up. Great! How was your trip? I thought you’d be back next week ­”

“Ugh, it was terrible. A terrible trip. I’m having a horrible day. That trip was just ­ whowho are you, again? Why are you calling?” questioned an obviously irritated and surly Hersh.

“I’m calling to schedule an interview we talked about last week, remember?” I answered oblivious to his current temperament.

Little did I know this simple question would unleash the notoriously intense feistiness and doggedness of Hersh, a man whose words and attitude cut straight to the point, fast and furious, shooting off half a dozen questions in a row without pause. His aggressive style reminded me of an ethnic, immigrant uncle: blunt, honest, gruff, but oddly endearing.

“Why do you want an interview? Who are you again? Islamic ­ what? Islamic? Listen, you know I did Jazeera right? Al Jazeera? They’re Muslim (pauses). Oh, God. I mean, so, so what? What, you want an interview or something? Is that what you want? I – I usually do the pimping for my pieces for 2-3 days after they’re published, but once it’s done I move on. I move on, ya’ know? That was last week. This is this week. I got a lot of reporting to do (Sigh, sounds overwhelmed). I got a lot of reporting to do.”

I’ve been hit with a freight train, and I’m just trying re-attach my jaw let alone talk. My brain fires off an intelligent and lucid response, but before my lips can move, Hersh is on the loose again.

“What do you want from me? I mean, I really don’t like doing this. You know ­ these interviews. Once it’s done, I move on. I ­ I mean ­ you shoulda’ called last week. Why didn’t you call last week?” he asked.

Um, I actually did call last week, but you said call back in 2 weeks,” I answered calmly and logically.

“Oh,” replied Hersh, and for a second I sensed a silence, and thus an opportunity.

“Mr. Hersh, it won’t take long. I just wanted your thoughts on the recent ­”

“I hate it when people ask what I think. Who am I? I mean who cares what I think? Who cares about my thoughts? I just hate that. I hate answering that. I’m a reporter. I report the facts. I’m just a reporter. I’m just being up front with you.”

I am momentarily stunned. However, the ethnic, South Asian salesman in me comes alive and, like a snake charmer, I’m prepared to cajole, console, placate, and adulate in order to convince my reluctant client. But before I can utter a word, Hersh retaliates with a blow.

“Ok, a sample question. Suppose we did this interview, what would a sample question sound like? Hit me with a sample question. Go!” commanded Hersh.

The bell rings. The Heavyweight advances, and now you’re on your toes for Round 1.

ALI: (Slightly flustered and caught off guard) Ok, I have one. Here’s a sample. Recently at the Democratic debate, Senator Mike Gravel called out Hillary Clinton for voting on Senator Lieberman’s aggressive resolution against Iran that condemned Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group. What I want to ask is, should we expect anything different from the Democrats if they are elected in regards to U.S. foreign policy, specifically in regards to Iraq? Iran?

HERSH: I have no idea. I would certainly hope so. How would I possible know? I don’t see them doing anything different with Iraq, despite concede it. Just concede it ­ I don’t know what else they can do that is different. And who says they’re going to win? I don’t see that they are going to win. I’m not sure they are, and I don’t know why people think that. They haven’t done anything different. They haven’t brought anything new to the table that hasn’t already been said by the Republicans. They just talk the talk. They talk the talk. If I knew this ­ I mean, who would win (the presidential race), I’d be at the race track everyday. Not reporting. You just don’t know. No one knows. Listen, this is politics, and I’m just a guy who writes ­ who writes stories about the war. When people ask me about politics it drives me crazy! I’m not a fan of politics. I don’t like discussing politics. You can’t make me something I’m not.

ALI: I understand. Trust me, trust me, I’m not trying to. But, there you go, that would be an example of a sample question if we did an interview ­

HERSH: What!? We are doing an interview! What the fuck were you doing?! This is the interview! Get out your recorder, let’s go. Let’s go.”

ALI: Ok, great, let’s do it. Private contractors in Iraq, specifically Blackwater, have been on the news nonstop for the past few months regarding numerous allegations of reckless shooting and violence. What’s your take on this?

HERSH: Oh, there’s been a lot of wrongdoing by them. A lot of arrogance. [Blackwater] drive around like they own the world over there. They increase a lot of resentment amongst the Iraqi civilian population against us [The U.S.] by behaving like this. Listen, if you’re an occupier then you act like an occupier. Occupiers act like occupiers. There is no way that Iraqi people will ever respond in any positive way to what Blackwater does.

ALI: How will the Iraqis respond to this? You highlighted the Abu Ghraib scandal in your book, Chain of Command. You know private contractors CACI and Titan were responsible for much of those abusive interrogations and you described the blowback resulting from [Abu Ghraib]. What’s the blowback on this one?

HERSH: There is no way Iraqi people will respond to will ­ they have never responded to will. It’s exactly the same problem we encountered in Afghanistan. I mean, a lot of people who normally would have been or should have been supportive of us, I mean, they should have supported us initially, those people have come to realize they don’t like us since we became an “occupier.”

You know being an “occupier” is risky business. It is really hard to be “occupier.” Occupiers never win. They never have. They’ve always ended up getting squeezed out. Anyone, I mean anyone, who has been following this war closely knows Blackwater is doing just what they’ve been doing all along. They only reason it’s in the news is because of the absolutely egregious way they behaved, and the fact Iraq decided to go public against them. Listen, Blackwater is operating they way they’ve always operated. They only take care of their clients and their client’s needs. That’s what matters. Anyone else who isn’t the client doesn’t matter.

ALI: Recently, a maelstrom has been raised over the new Mearsheimer/Walt book “The Israel Lobby” describing the influence of ­

HERSH: I don’t know ­ Israeli Lobby? I don’t know if I’d call them an Israeli Lobby.

ALI: Well, do you buy it? The influence and pressure of certain pro ­Israeli lobbies on the U.S. government? What’s the level of influence, if any, or is it overblown?

HERSH: There’s AIPAC (American Israeli Political Action Committee). You have AIPAC. It is a powerful lobby, you know, it’s an interest group. But Israel – Israel doesn’t need a lobby. It has direct connections right here, right here in town (Washington D.C.). I mean, of course, it’s a monumental force. But that’s the reality. It’s been a reality forever – in my life at least. Money talks is the old cliché, and B.S. walks. But you know, it’s just interest groups. That’s the way they are, and everyone does it. Everyone. ­

ALI: Right. ­

HERSH: For example, the Muslims ­ that’s a good example. They solidly voted for Bush (2000 election).

ALI: The Muslims came out en masse and voted for him. ­

HERSH: Right, I mean the Muslims, the interest group, it’s not nearly as organized, or powerful or well funded as others, but you know, there was enough money and enough percentage of votes that made a real effort in the Muslim community. [The Muslims] are conservative. Conservative in how they follow their religion, you know, very conservative. They (Muslim Americans) keep their heads down, out of trouble, just keep your head down they believe, and they say, “just mind your own business.” And the Muslims are successful in business; they have a high degree of talent in making money in areas of big business. In the business world ­ for example in Lebanon ­ you can see it with the Shia there. So, it is inevitable. Anyway, that’s how interests group work, always. But, I can’t calibrate the numbers for you to determine their influence.

ALI: Over the past couple of years, it’s become fashionable and clichéd amongst certain circles to compare our involvement in Iraq to the Vietnam War. Now, you’ve been there, you were there reporting on Vietnam, breaking the My Lai massacre story back then. And here you are now with Iraq. As a person who has actually lived through it and reported on both, are there any similarities, or is it premature to compare?

HERSH: One thing is similar. We are out there fighting in a country with uneducated, 18 year old boys with weapons. They’re frightened – frightened. They’re frightened because they don’t know the country, they don’t know the culture. They’re not even interested in knowing about the culture. Fear is there. [The U.S. soldiers] never see an enemy sometimes, and weeks go by. And they continue to lose fellow soldiers, they lose them to snipers, they lose them to mines, and eventually and inevitably, they take the war to the people they can see. And in Iraq, that’s the local population. Happens in all wars. All of ’em. Civilians are the ones treated differently.

Vietnam was always a tactical mistake. We lose the war, we are driven off in ’75, and in four to five years we are back in that country playing Monopoly with Vietnam’s economy. You know, making investments, several investments in that country. That is not ‘gonna happen here. We are in a strategic debate with about 1.3, what, 1.5 billion Muslims –

ALI: Around 1.5 –

HERSH: Yeah, so 1.5 billion Muslims. We are in a real strategic war here, and we really misplayed it. We did more for Osama than he could do for himself. We played a part in recruiting for him. This is a part of the world where America is not going to be wanted. Same thing in Afghanistan, especially in the Southern part of Afghanistan.

ALI: You make a good point. You know I’m Pakistani-American, son of Pakistani immigrants, but I have family there still. And we talk to them often and I used to visit all the time, but the level of Anti-Americanism in that country is amazing, which it didn’t have 10 years ago, but now, it’s just overwhelming.

HERSH: Well, I specifically was discussing the southern region of Afghanistan.

ALI: But the border between the two ­

HERSH: Yes, right, you’re right. Like Afghanistan, Pakistan is the same issue, the exact same issue as with Afghanistan in terms of a tremendous lack of popularity for our government amongst the people there. This will increase particularly as we pit Sunni against Shia.

ALI: So there’s this rise of Anti-Americanism unfortunately around that region. In your research, have you found the main cause of hatred against America?

HERSH: American violence. It’s the violence. Do we know ­ I mean, how many bombs are dropped? How many shells are fired? Who knows what the accurate number is? I know I don’t. There was, last year I think, I believe there was a number reported in the “The Lancet” that said the Iraqi causalities numbered in 600,000 killed [The Lancet medical journal reporting published in October ’06 estimated 654,965 excess deaths related to the war, or 2.5% of the population]. That number is breathtakingit’s breathtaking. I believe, however, the numbers and causalities are actually much greater than have been reported.

Every family in Iraq knows someone who has been killed. Americans are invariably blamed. We are going to have serious situations resulting from that. This is a society [Iraq] that does deal with revenge. We probably created a lot of new jihadists and martyrs and anger, anger with how we behaved and the resulting casualties that are innocent Iraqis.

ALI: On the ground in Iraq, what specifically causes the blowback against our troops, what causes the violence?

HERSH: Americans are frightened. They are frightened in Iraq. Not frightened in, you know, a cowardly way. But frightened like anyone ­ I mean, it’s natural to be like that, anyone would. You’re a solider in Iraq, you’re now manning a checkpoint there. You don’t know the language, you don’t know Arabic. You don’t know their culture. Now, [the Iraqis] arrive at the checkpoints. They miss the checkpoints. You yell at them to stop, but they don’t understand you, they don’t speak the language, so they keep driving. They don’t stop. You open fire. And now you’ve made enemies. We are occupiers right now.

ALI: I want to get back to the Sunni-Shia comment you made. As you know, America has history in that region, specifically the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s. We know that the U.S., through then Vice President Bush, was heavily involved, trying to bleed both sides against the middle, weakening the Shia theocracy of Iran and hedging bets for the Sunni regime of Saddam. So, now, is it going to be good ‘ol “divide and conquer” with the sectarian situation? How will U.S. forces and policy play with the Sunni-Shia dynamic in the Muslim world?

HERSH: Brother versus brother. It’s going to be brother versus brother. Sunni versus Shia. There’s an incredible sectarian war happening right now in Iraq. Things are always tense between both groups there. We know Saddam mistreated the Shia when he was in power. But, it was nothing then like it is now. The killing now is unbelievable.

The new policy of America is that we are going to work with Israelis and moderate Sunnis, those include Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia. We’re going to join forces with Western forces in Europe. Then, America and Israel are going to go after people we don’t like. People like Iran, Hamas, Hizbollah. There is a coalition forming, a coalition that forms and pits brother against brother, a fitnah. You know that’s not an exact meaning of the word, it’s an Arabic word. But it’s fitnah [dissention, disunity]. And we have strange bedfellows working with us ­ Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia – all are going to be used to put pressure on Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. It’s a unique notion. It’s “the Re-direction” ­ you are seeing it right now. I wrote about in the New Yorker. It’s called “the Re-direction.”

[“The Re-direction,” according to Hersh in his March piece, is the Bush Administration’s new policy towards the Middle East. In order to undermine Iran, which is Shiite, the administration has decided to cooperate with Saudi’s Sunni government in Lebanon to engage in “clandestine operations that intend to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria.”]

You are seeing tremendous pressure now. For example, now, right now in Lebanon, America’s position, the Bush Administration’s position is to support the Siniora government as an example of their belief in democracy. We are not interested in hearing the complaints of the Shias [Hezbollah] and other groups.

[Hersh elaborates on this point in the same article, where he quotes an official who states, “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we canIn this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequencesIt’s a very high-risk venture.”]

ALI: Let’s talk of Iran. Based on what you’ve said and written, and what we’ve heard countless times by the Administration regarding Iran’s potential nuclear capability, their hostility towards America, and so forth, is there real, credible evidence to suggest that, indeed, Iran poses a threat?

HERSH: Oh, the White House believes it. They believe that, no question. They believe Iran’s Revolutionary guard, the Government, it’s all part of one unified group that is dedicated to help kill Americans. [The White House] describes the Revolutionary Guard as an active, radical commando unit. Of course our intelligence community is bitterly, bitterly divided over this. And the Administration has not even come close to making its case on this. We have to remember, when it was 1992, Saddam fell after the war, and for a brief time, you know, for a brief time there was a rebellion against Saddam’s regime by the Shia. We did nothing. We knew about it, and we did not nothing. We let Saddam fly helicopters to kill these Shias. Since then there has been a lot of bitterness against America. So, there is always two sides, right? Two sides to a story? Well, this has six, seven sides.

ALI: But what does the White House say, or believe, that Iran concretely does to help the insurgency in Iraq?

HERSH: America says that Iran supplies arms. They supply arms, weapons, I.E.D’s ­ which – do you know about them? They are these improvised explosive devices, these explosive devises that are incredibly effective. They think Iran is supplying intelligence on several issues, and they see Iran as being directly responsible for what’s happening in Iraq.

Ok, one more. That should be enough right? You should have enough for a piece, right?

ALI: Should be enough, yeah. So, according to your sources and research, in your opinion, has Iran actually done anything to warrant this belief that it is a legitimate threat to America?

HERSH: Well, Some believe, like I do, some people believe that Iran is doing nothing different than what it has done for the past two to three decades in supporting the Shia. I mean, that’s what they are in interested in ­ to support the Shia. But there is no notion that this government, our government has proven its case yet. They U.S. may do what they want to do against Iran. I mean, who is going to stop this president? Who is going to stop him? I don’t know. (Pause) Ok, so are we good?

ALI: We are good.

HERSH: Ok, no more right? Promise no more phone calls?

ALI: Promise no more phone calls.

HERSH: Great. Thanks. Bye

Ding. Ding. Ding. End of Round 15. And with that, Hersh hangs up the phone off and returns to do what he does best ­ reporting. He doesn’t believe that people care about his opinions or his thoughts. I mean, he’s not a politician, so why should they, right? He’s just a reporter. That’s all. So, please folks, let’s not go and try to make him something he’s not.

Wajahat Ali is Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and recent J.D. whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” is the first major play about Muslim Pakistani Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His blog is at He can be reached at

Blackwater and Private Military Firms in Iraq

The Good, the Bad and the Iraqi


“Privatize first, ask questions later.”

William D Hartung

“I would like to have the largest, most professional private army in the world”

Gary Jackson, President of Blackwater, hired to protect Lt. Gen Paul Bremer, head of the CPA.

“For most of the world’s governments, though, there are simply no applicable laws that regulate and define the jurisdictions under which PMF’s (Private Military Firms) operate.”

P.W. Singer

“It’s more cost effective to outsource some of those activities, those functions, outside of the military. I didn’t do the numbers, but I’m telling you, it’s cheaper.” Paul Cerjan, VP of Worldwide military affairs, Halliburton/KBR

“Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises.

The black heart of outsourcing core, military functions to Private Military Firms (PMF’s) revealed itself yet again this week with the most recent (of many) Blackwater scandals. Blackwater, the North Carolina based private security firm with 1,000 employees currently deployed in Iraq, first came to prominence as the contracted, personal bodyguards of former Coalition Provisional Authority head Lt. General Paul Bremer. Unfortunately, Blackwater’s international reputation has blossomed due to its notoriety warranted by irresponsible and violent acts in Iraq. These incidents, which seem like a recurring, annual trend, emphasize the crucial, prescient need to closely examine PMF’s roles, responsibilities, and most importantly–legal accountability–in the “War on Terror.”

Recently, Iraqi investigations revealed Blackwater employees were responsible for nearly 6 violent episodes this year resulting in 10 deaths and countless wounded civilians. However, on September 27, The State Department, for the first time, publicly stated Blackwater’s security personnel has actually been involved in 56 shootings while guarding American diplomats in Iraq so far this year alone.

Furthermore, federal prosecutors are currently investigating Blackwater employees for illegally smuggling weapons into Iraq and selling them on the black market, which have, ironically, ended up in the hands of organizations that the United States government has officially deemed as “terrorist.” Surely, the U.S. government has reprimanded this organization, cancelled their contracts, and held them accountable for such illegal and negligent acts. Right? Wrong. Reaffirming their undying loyalty to private military firms, The White House, through its cabinet member of choice Condoleezza Rice, said they have, yet again, ordered a review of the government’s handling of private contractors in Iraq, but added “We (the government) havereceived the protection of Blackwater for number of years now, and they have lost their own people in protecting our own people (high ranking U.S. diplomats and ambassadors) – and that needs to be said.” What also should be said is that Blackwater is just one of many private military firms whose illegal conduct has gone largely unnoticed and unpunished under either U.S. or international law.

We must recall The Abu Ghraib Torture Scandal that rocked the headlines in the summer of 2004. Aside from permanently disgracing the United States military reputation in the Middle East, this harrowing episode introduced the world to the catastrophic consequences and weaknesses of privatizing certain military functions to private contractors. The Taguba Report, prepared by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba to investigate the scandal, highlighted private military firms CACI and Titan as being “directly or indirectly responsible” for the abuses, since they employed 30 or so interrogators who made up more than half of the Abu Ghraib interrogation team. Torrin Nelson, former employee of CACI working as an interrogator at Abu Ghraib, illustrated a grave problem with outsourcing core military functions to the private market when he said, “The problem with outsourcing intelligence work is the limit of oversight and control by the military administrators over the independent contractors.” Other egregious examples include the complete exoneration of private military firm DynCorp (hired as Bosnia’s police force), whose employees were involved in a Bosnian rape and child prostitution scandal. None of the men, including DynCorp’s site supervisor who videotaped himself raping two young women, were ever legally prosecuted, instead they were “sprinting out of the country, away from local authorities.” How convenient.

The lack of responsibility and accountability for private military actors are major areas of concern, since PMF’s are generally subject only to the laws of the market. Specifically, a public military actor, such as an Army Marine, would be court marshaled, dishonorably discharged, or arrested for partaking in illegal activities contrary to domestic and international law. Certain manners of control and regulation would ensure this type of swift punishment and accountability, such as internal checks and balances, domestic laws regulating military force, public opinion, parliamentary scrutiny, and numerous international laws. However, no agency, legislative oversight, or legal recourse truly affects the PMF’s, such as Blackwater, aside from the checks and balances of it shareholders, whose decision to punish or appraise depends primarily on profit incentives. In fact, the army concluded in 2002 that it lacked a “specific identified force structure” and “detailed policy on how to establish contractor management oversight within an area of responsibility.”

Furthermore, there exists a lack of proper monitoring of PMF contracts and employment activities, such as those witnessed at Abu Ghraib. Specifically, both private and public sectors agree on proper monitoring by public authorities, but that would raise contract costs, blur the chain of command, and diffuse responsibility. Most PMF contracts, such as those in Iraq, take place in the “fog of war”–a highly complex and uncertain war time environment, making routine monitoring extremely difficult For example, in the detention facility at Abu Ghraib, the civilian contractors “wandered about with too much unsupervised free access in the detainee area” according to the Taguba Report, which also remarked they (the civilian contractors) “do not appear to be properly supervised.” Also, PMF contract terms are often unspecific, because they lack outside standards of achievement and established measures of effectiveness. The result? The principal defers to the client for progress reports, instead of obtaining up to minute, accurate unbiased evaluations from neutral, professional, public monitoring groups.

The lack of accurate monitoring and oversight has also led to scandals of PMF’s overcharging for un-provided services, thereby undermining one of the main motives for privatization: cost savings. Particularly, P.W. Singer urges clients, such as the United States government, to notice that a firm’s primary aim, that of profit maximization, cannot always perfectly align itself perfectly with their client’s interests. The phenomenon is known as “improper contracting”, illustrated by Dick Cheney’s old company, Halliburton, which operates over 60 sites in Iraq as the military’s main supplier due to $12 billion worth of service contracts. To be fair, any industry contains actors willing to engage in unscrupulous practices, such as overcharging, hiding failures, not performing to peak capacity, and skirting corners to maximize profit and minimize costs. Improper contracting concerns have plagued two companies in particular; Halliburton and the provider firm Custer Battles, who, according to experts, operate “with poor oversight.”

The recent debacle by Blackwater contractors and Halliburton truckers elucidates concern involving the relationship between civilian contractors and military actors, and whether this relationship truly fosters efficient end results. This interdependence of civilian and military actors might result in a lopsided over-dependence. Specifically, if the government places core functions and strategic plans in the hands of a private firm, then the government succumbs to the economic term “ex-post holdup” meaning it becomes “too dependent” and “at the mercy” of the private agent. An analogy could be drawn between the sadist who hovers the carrot on the stick in front of the starving prisoner, knowing full well the prisoner will oblige any indulgence to obtain the precious resource. In Iraq, after a 19-truck Haliburton KBR convoy was ambushed, with six drivers killed, several KBR truckers absolutely refused to drive until assured of improved security. In fact, hundreds of drivers left their jobs and the country. As a result, the United States military, dependent on Halliburton trucks and truckers for supplies, was left with “dwindling stores of ammunition, fuel, and water.” Unlike public military actors, private actors, such as the Halliburton truckers, can break their contracts and leave without fear of court martial or prosecution.

This “abandonment with immunity” not only threatens reliability and confidence in private actors, but also undermines the safety of American soldiers and the integrity of military operations. Barry Yeoman articulates the problem clearly when he states:

Think about it: a private military firm might decide to pack its own bags for any number of reasons, leaving American soldiers and equipment vulnerable to enemy attack. If the military really can’t fight wars without contractors, it must at least come up with ironclad policies on what do if the private soldiers leave American forces in the lurch.”

The competing interests and functions of civilian contractors and military personnel lead to deteriorating communication and harmony between the two sectors. Open streams of communication can help efficiency by allowing private and public sector actors to know of each other’s functional capabilities, resource strength, and locations, especially in hot zones According to Steven Schooner, an expert in government contracting, since the contractors are outside the military command structure there is a lack of coordination on the battlefield, and furthermore “contractors and the military don’t communicate in the same networks. They don’t get the same intelligence information.” Col. Jill Morgenthaler, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military command headquarters in Baghdad, agreed, “There is no formal arrangement for intelligence sharing” however “ad hoc relationships are in place”

Unfortunately, the tragic results of inefficient communication between private and public actors are exemplified by the killings of 4 Blackwater personnel two years ago. These private contractors were killed and mutilated in Fallujah while escorting three empty trucks on their way to pick up kitchen equipment. The State Department’s report states, “Blackwater took on the Fallujah mission before its contract officially began, and after being warned by its predecessor that it was too dangerous. It sent its team on the mission without properly armored vehicles and machine guns. And it cut the standard mission team by two members, thus depriving them of rear gunners.” This tragic incident catalyzed a U.S. military assault on Fallujah leaving 36 U.S. soldiers, 200 Sunni insurgents and 600 Iraqi civilians dead. The United States Oversight Committee on Oversight and Government Reform officially stated that Blackwater “delayed and impeded” a congressional probe of this tragic and unnecessary debacle .

The images of the Iraqi mob burning the Blackwater car and hanging their bodies from the bridge gave civilian contractors chills, specifically the family members of the slain men who filed wrongful death suits against Blackwater for failing to supply adequate guards as promised in the contract. Surprisingly, Marine Col. John Toolan was in command of the region during the tragic episode and had no knowledge of the contractors’ presence in the area due to lack of communication and information sharing. Furthermore, their deaths compelled him to set aside a core military strategy, quelling the insurgency, because he was forced to invade Fallujah and find the murderers. In hindsight, one can only assume an alternative result if there was a formal, consistent stream of communication between civilian contractors, such as Blackwater, and military personnel, such as Col John Toolan. Perhaps lives would have been saved and crucial military functions would have proceeded as planned. However, the lack of communication highlighted problems between the two sets of actors both supposedly working towards a unified goal, but harming their respective progress and interests instead.

So, here we are again in 2007 with another public, international PR crisis involving American PMF’s in Iraq threatening our already maligned reputation and endangering the sovereignty and efficiency of the United States military. History has taught us repeatedly that strict accountability, professional, independent monitoring systems of PMF’s, and swift, public legal recourse for unlawful conduct would not only curb future abuses, but also show the world the United States punishes those contractors who act recklessly and with impunity. History has also taught us that war is profitable and the clarity of accountability and legal ethics is generally always lost in this “fog of war.” And as of September 2007, Blackwater continues its convoy movements on the streets of Iraq. The black heart of American private military firms in Iraq has a strong, healthy pulse indeed.

Wajahat Ali is a poet, playwrite and essayist living in the Bay Area. His widely acclaimed work, The Domestic Crusaders, the first major play about Muslim-Americans was produced by Ishmael Reed. He can be reached at: