Previous month:
March 2004
Next month:
May 2004

April 2004

Civilian Contractors and the Iraqi Torture Scandal

A couple of people have sent me this URL, and I am insanely busy today so I had not intended any further blogging. But this shocks me.

I did not think I would be easy to shock on the subject of the use of private contractors in Iraq, but this bit -- the role of private contractors in the emerging scandal over the US treatment of Iraqi prisoners -- is just insane.

US military in torture scandal: Use of private contractors in Iraqi jail interrogations highlighted by inquiry into abuse of prisoners

Graphic photographs showing the torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners in a US-run prison outside Baghdad emerged yesterday from a military inquiry which has left six soldiers facing a possible court martial and a general under investigation.

The scandal has also brought to light the growing and largely unregulated role of private contractors in the interrogation of detainees.

According to lawyers for some of the soldiers, they claimed to be acting in part under the instruction of mercenary interrogators hired by the Pentagon.

Immediate questions that spring to mind for the next White House press conference or Pentagon briefing: Who hired these contractors? What private military firm are they with? What was the nature of their screening, if any?

Bot the Guardian and the L. A. Times reports that the companies involved were CACI International of Arlington, Va., and Titan Corp. of San Diego.

This, also, from the Guardian, tells what was done about contractor misbehavior:

Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, speaking for central command, told the Guardian: "One contractor was originally included with six soldiers, accused for his treatment of the prisoners, but we had no jurisdiction over him. It was left up to the contractor on how to deal with him."

She did not specify the accusation facing the contractor, but according to several   sources with detailed knowledge of the case, he raped an Iraqi inmate in his mid-teens.

We're paying these guys to rape boys? And, presumably, they sent they guy home to do it over here, without legal consquences? What planet are these people from?

Gary Farber has a detailed post on the torture story.

And I haven't even had a chance to scratch the surface of the new Mother Jones article, New Word Order.

Can I just repeat what I said a month ago? BREMER SHOULD RESIGN. And not only that, RUMSFELD SHOULD RESIGN.

(Thanks to Gary Farber and Andrea Eastman.)

This scandal has provoked a lot of blog discussion. Some of it can be found via this technorati link.

Bruce on Tour

Bruce Sterling has a new book out and is going on tour. He's posted his tour schedule on his blog. I was busily reading along down the schedule when I realized I'd misread something: what I'd thought said Talk & Singing actually said Talk & Signing. Darn.

I was wondering what Bruce was going to sing. Maybe we can get him to sing anyway, even if that wasn't originally part of the plan. I don't think we could get him to go for "Teen Angel," but maybe if we asked for something from REM? It's worth a try.

MEANWHILE, Kevin Hayden notes that the Republicans are having some difficulty with language as well:

Elsewhere in the news, the party that derided Clinton for his definition of the word 'is' are having great difficulty understanding what the definition of the word 'hero' is. They think it's unpatriotic of Kerry that he wasn't wounded enough in Vietnam and that Max Cleland was wounded too much. Yet in trying to find the proper midpoint of wounds where heroes exist, they're having difficulty finding any Republican ones who ever came under fire. When asked for details, administration officials declared, in unison, "Mnphmnmmmmnpt."

Let's Demand a True Pro-Life Position from Karen Hughes

I'm rolling my eyes this morning about Karen Hughes's attempt to explain herself (Washington Post).

Asked for her response yesterday, Hughes sent an e-mail saying, "That is a gross distortion and I would never make such a comparison. Surely even the most strident of partisans, and reasonable people on both sides of the abortion issue, can agree that we have been reminded of the precious nature of human life and that we ought to work to reduce the number of abortions in America."

So Karen, even though you are one of the most strident of partisans, I imagine that you can order a copy of Sandra Steingraber's Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood and read it cover to cover. Then, I'm sure in your newly enlightened state you will set about advocating strong environmental regulations that will protect the life and health of American fetuses.

How about we start with some really strong regulations on mercury emissions so that pregnant women can go back to eating fish? Thousands of wanted pregnancies are terminated each year either by miscarriage or because of detectable birth defects caused by environmental pollution. Want to reduce the number of abortions? Why don't we start there? Surely even the most strident of partisans can agree that fetal health is more important than serving the needs of Bush's industrial campaign contributors.

So, Karen, shall we start with mercury emissions? You want to talk about fetal well-being? Let's talk about it then. Yes, let's.

(See also my previous posts: Selling the Right to Emit Mercury into My Breastmilk, Obviously, a public health policy that asks expectant mothers to give up certain foods while allowing industries to continue contaminating them is absurd. , A Juxtaposition that Speaks for Itself, and Missing Mercury: An Intrigue.)

(Also, Lori Mann has some good pictures from the march up on her site.)

A Democrat Grumbling

Why is the Kerry campaign spending precious political capital fighting this stupid battle over medals? Yes, sure the Bush campaign is trying to smear him, but they do that. They're going to do that until the election.

It just seems to me that many really important things are coming out about the situation in Iraq and that we have a whole lot more information on the nature of the problems and their depth, so Kerry should be rising to the task of defining how things need to be done differently. I keep going back to the Kerry campaign web site hopling for a rewritten position on how to solve the problem of Iraq, and it doesn't seem to have changed much recently. I find that disappointing.

And while taxes certainly are an issue in this election, I'm not sure why Kerry's pushing that just now, except maybe because people just filed their tax returns.

I'm hoping to see the Kerry campaign re-engage soon. Right now it seems to me that more of the spontaneous effort is being devoted to dealing with Bush smears.

Quantum Mechanics: Not Just a Matter of Interpretation

See the preprint of Afshar's paper on IRIMS here.

Tomorrow at 4 PM, physicist Shahriar S. Afshar, a Visiting Scientist at Harvard University's Physics Department will give a talk entitled Violation of Bohr's principle of complementarity in an optical "which-way" experiment at Texas A&M University.

Afshar has done a variation of the standard two-pin-hole "welcher-Weg" optics experiment, in which he demonstrates that wave interference is present even when one is determining through which pinhole a photon passes. This result is in direct contradiction to Neils Bohr's Principle of Complementarity, which would require in the quantum world that when one is measuring particle properties [formerly read "measuring quantum properties" -KC], all wave interference phenomena must vanish. Afshar's trick is to find the location of the minimum points of wave interference, place one or more wires at these minimum points, and observe how much light is intercepted when one is determining the pinhole through which the photons passed.

It has been widely accepted that the rival interpretations of quantum mechanics, e.g., the Copenhagen Interpretation, the Many-Worlds Interpretation, and my father John Cramer's Transactional Interpretation, cannot be distinguished or falsified by experiment, because the experimental predictions come from the formalism that all such interpretations describe. However, the Afshar Experiment demonstrates in an interaction-free way that there is a loophole in this logic: if the interpretation is inconsistent with the formalism, then it can be falsified. In particular, the Afshar Experiment falsifies the Copenhagen Interpretation, which requires the absence of interference in a particle-type measurement. It also falsifies the Many-Worlds Interpretation which tells us to expect no interference between "worlds" that are physically distinguishable, e.g., that correspond to the photon's measured passage through one pinhole or the other [the word "measured" added 4/28. -KC].

The Transactional Interpretation, on the other hand, has no problem in explaining that Afshar results. "Offer waves" from the source pass through both pinholes and interfere, creating a condition in which no transactions to the wires can form. Therefore, no photons are intercepted by wires, as Afshar observes. The quantum formalism makes the same predictions.

On this basis, it appears that two of the major interpretations of quantum mechanics have been falsified and should be relegated to the waste basket of physics history. The Transactional Interpretation, which involves a forward/back in time handshake, is one of the few (perhaps the only) interpretation(s) left standing after the Afshar test.

Yay for the home team!

(See also the Power Point presentation for my dad's Hal Clement memorial lecture at Boskone; Google also has an html cache of the Powerpoint presentation.)

LET ME KNOW if anyone reading this attends Afshar's talk or attended a similar one he gave at Harvard recently.

TRACKBACKS: My MT trackbacks don't work. One of these days I'll figure out why. But this entry has received really a lot, so here is a link to Technorati's listing of links to this post. Boingboing also blogged it, but the post has already slid off their main page.

SEE UPDATE, 5/10/04.

Is the Use of Mercenaries Unamerican?

Don Monkerud makes an interesting argument on the US use of mercenaries:

As a new nation, after defeating mercenaries sent by King George III of England, America prided itself on having a citizens' army. Even after Congress abolished the draft and instituted a professional army, our soldiers were American citizens, protecting the nation. Today's "deregulated" military adds a totally new dimension. . . .

During the American Revolution, Americans fought mercenaries for our independence. Are we now to embrace them?

ON ANOTHER TOPIC, David Hartwell and I have a seriously overdue anthology to turn in to our editor at Tor, so my blogging may get a bit sparse for a while.

The Struggle Within Islam

Richard Clarke is good in a NYT editorial today:

One lesson is that even though we are the world's only remaining superpower Å\ as we were before Sept. 11, 2001 Å\ we are seriously threatened by an ideological war within Islam. It is a civil war in which a radical Islamist faction is striking out at the West and at moderate Muslims. Once we recognize that the struggle within Islam Å\ not a "clash of civilizations" between East and West Å\ is the phenomenon with which we must grapple, we can begin to develop a strategy and tactics for doing so. It is a battle not only of bombs and bullets, but chiefly of ideas. It is a war that we are losing, as more and more of the Islamic world develops antipathy toward the United States and some even develop a respect for the jihadist movement.

MEANWHILE, I thought wryly about blogging this item with the headline US Not Cooperating with UN Weapons Inspectors.

Religion: we're all in this together

I've been watching with some consternation at some of my good friends calling for religious tolerance among liberals and then getting their feelings hurt for their trouble. I've put in my two cents worth over at Electrolite (the blog in question) and also at Kevin Drumm's new home. But it was an awfully terse two cents worth, because over the course of my life I have felt myself to be much more on the receiving end of religious intolerance than on the giving end. I have been asked to tolerate a wide variety of religious impositions. And other than a few stern grillings given fundamentalists [Leviticus provides rich material for this] who asked me if I'd been saved when I was a teenager, I can't recall instances of the tide going the other direction. Thus, atrios's post of this morning on the subject had me muttering YES! YES!

My earliest clear memory of religious imposition was when I was in the fourth grade: we lived in Munich that year and religious instruction was part of the formal school curriculum. On my school registration form at Herkomerplatz Kinderschule, in the blank for "Religion" my father had filled in "keine." As far as I could tell, the school system had never encountered a family that declined to identify a religion, so I was assigned to the Catholic class where I spent the school year coloring in the back despite the instructor's best efforts to involve me in the class. As far as he was concerned, if I was in his class I was Catholic. As far as I was concerned, "keine" on the form meant I didn't have to do anything. Our compromise took the form of him trying to get me to draw pictures of what God looked like, as best as I can recall.

I have many other examples. But really, they're not that important except in that by the time I was a teenager, much to my mother's dismay, I was a subscriber to American Atheists and had solidified in my cultural identity as an atheist. People would frequently try to talk me into the idea that I was an agnostic, and I was well armed with arguments to the contrary. What is most important about this is that my identity as an atheist (and I suspect this it true for many others as well) was reactive, formed by imposition and lack of consideration by others. Religious tolerance, it seemed, was for those who had a religion to tolerate, not those of us without.

I am 42 year old now and am no longer in need of the defences that kept my teenage psyche safe. I am that most paradoxical of creatures, an atheist who goes to church. Theologically, I am most closely aligned with the Unitarians, but the Unitarian church is all the way up in Mt. Kisco and the Congregational Church in Chappaqua is much closer and has a better children's program. I am still made uncomfortable with sermons in which the minister talks as though one can actually know what exactly Jesus said or figure out why he said it or what he meant by it. And really, I'm no less an atheist than I was at seventeen. So what am I doing in a church?

The understanding I came to in adulthood is that in the grand scheme of the history of world religions, I am a Christian; and my lack of belief in an all-powerful God is a mere theological quibble that takes on exaggerated importance in this cultural moment. It no more divorces me from Christianity than choosing the wrong side in the question of whether the Earth goes 'round the sun or vice versa.

If you view religions as cultural groupings rather than as defined by specific articles of belief, the source of sectarians' underlying anger at the "religious" becomes clearer: large segments of the population are in effect excommunicated from the larger cultural life of their religion. The terms of engagement have been defined by those who would reject categorically that an atheist like me could possibly be a Christian.

The religious tolerance recently demanded of sectarian liberals must be based on a recognition that the "religious" cannot exclude us from the spiritual life of the country and the world; that those who lay claim to the world's religions do not own them; that this isn't, and never was, a battle between those with religion and those without. We're all in this together.

UPDATE: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, in a further thoughtful post on religion and the left, directs our attention to a good post at everything's ruined on this topic.

A Nice Surprise

Yesterday, I ordered Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force to Do Business by Madelaine Drohan from Amazon Canada. (The book won't be out in the US until October.) I asked for standard shipping and expected I'd receive the book in 8-10 days.

Just now the doorbell rang. My book arrived. Astonishing.

BY THE WAY, this is how I came across the book. It was mentioned an article in the Ottowa Citizen:

The English non-fiction category, also worth $2,500, was won by veteran journalist Madelaine Drohan for Making a Killing: How and why corporations use armed force to do business.

Ms. Drohan's book from Random House of Canada details historical and contemporary examples of corporations, some of them Canadian, that employ killer mercenaries to further their business interests in Africa.

Making a Killing has also been nominated for the $10,000 National Business Book Award, which is to be announced today. The political and business writings of the Ottawa-based Ms. Drohan from around the world have appeared during the past two decades in the Citizen, Globe and Mail, Financial Post and Maclean's.

The awards were presented last evening at the annual Ottawa Literary Awards ceremony at Library and Archives Canada, honouring Ottawa-area writers in several competitions.

I don't remember how I came to read the article.

An Important First

The first conviction under the child-sex tourism provision of the Protect Act (from the Christian Science Monitor):

The push for the travel industry to do its part to curb the demand aspect of the global sex trade comes a year after President Bush passed the Protect Act, legislation making it illegal for US citizens to travel abroad and engage in sex with a minor.

In his September 2003 UN address, President Bush asked that all countries pass laws against their citizens traveling abroad to engage in the "underground of brutality" of sex trafficking and warn tourists of this "humanitarian crisis. In the US, conviction under the Protect Act could lead to a 30-year prison sentence.

Because of the veiled nature of sex tourism, it's impossible to calculate the number of participants. But a survey by ECPAT reports that Americans make up 25 percent of the world's global sex industry, which involves about 2 million children. Americans represent about 80 percent of the sex tourists in Costa Rica, and about 38 percent in Cambodia.

Michael Lewis Clark was the first American convicted under the child-sex tourism provision of the Protect Act. He recently pleaded guilty in a Seattle federal district court to two counts of engaging in sex with a minor. Clark was arrested in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, after authorities there learned he was paying young boys as little as $2 for sex. Clark may have molested as many as 50 children during several years of traveling back and fourth to Cambodia, according to the investigation conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an arm of the Department of Homeland Security. Four other Americans have also been charged under the act.

This AP article provides some interesting background on the changes in Cambodian law enforcement that made the arrest and conviction possible.

In the past week, a doctor returning from Russia was arrested under the same law.

Bloggers on the Hugo Ballot

In the midst of everything, I'd forgotten to mention that the Hugo ballot is out. And it is rife with bloggers.

The New York Review of Science Fiction is nominated in the semiprozine category, meaning a nomination for me, for my husband David Hartwell, and for Kevin Maroney. David is also nominated in the Best Professional Editor category. With 27 previous Hugo nominations, David is the record-holder for most previous nominations without a win.

Charles Stross is nominated for Best Novel for Singularity Sky and also for the novellete "Nightfall."

Neil Gaiman is nominated for Best Short Story for "A Study in Emerald."

David Levine is nominated for Best Short Story for "The Tale of the Golden Eagle" and also for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo, though it behaves like one).

Jeff VanderMeer is nominated in the category of Best Related Book, along with his co-editor Mark Roberts, for The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases.

Cheryl Morgan is nominated in two categories: Best Fanzine for her editing of Emerald City and for Best Fan Writer.

Tim Pratt is nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Finally, Alison Scott is nominated, along with Steve Davies & Mike Scott, for editing Plotka.

I probably missed someone. If I did, let me know (and include the blog URL).

Dozois Steps Down

Since we're all sick here, I'm more out-of-the-loop than usual as far as science fiction gossip goes. So I was quite shocked when David came into the bedroom and told me that Gardner Dozois was stepping down as editor as Asimov's. (We're taking turns lying in bed, since we're both sick and our sick kids have more energy than we do.) Anyway, here's the LOCUS writeup:

Gardner Dozois steps down as editor of Asimov's Science Fiction, after almost 19 years, to pursue other projects, including his own writing € Dozois will remain with Asimov's as Contributing Editor, providing editorial guidance and interacting with readers via the Internet and at public events. Sheila Williams, the current Executive Editor, will succeed Dozois as Editor. Williams' first official issue will be January 2005.

I have no special insight into this. (But I worry. I hope he and his family have made good plans for things like health insurance, which I suspect is much more of an issue now than it was two decades ago when he took the job.)

I was much less shocked by the resignation of David Pringle, editor of Interzone, a few weeks ago. David had been uncharacteristically difficult to contact for months before hand; we were told that this was because he'd become depressed. I do not see Dozois's departure as similar to or related to Pringle's.

Remember This?

While we're thinking about private military firms, it's important to remember that their clients are not always on our side.

I've been lying in bed reading Singer, and came across a discussion of private military firms training terrorists (Corporate Warriors, p. 181). The first firm I looked up, Sakina Security, seems to have vanished from the web, but the Freepers noticed them in 2001 and snarfed a bit of the site:




There was also a bit of involvement from a company called Trans-Global Security International.

One would-be security contractor raises a legitimate point:

ÅgWe use U.S.A. because whenever we go to Afghanistan, U.S.A. labels us terrorist,Åh the Syrian-born Bakri Mohammed was quoted as saying, ÅgOK, so let us go to America. You call us tourists.Åh

Indeed, why train in Afghanistan when you can train in Alabama?

Because That's Where the Money Is

There's a virus going around our house, and none of us are well. I would otherwise devote more discussion to this public radio series, Spoils of War, on corruption in occupied Iraq:

Who's watching the money as it streams through Baghdad? Just about no one, and bribes and black marketeering are rampant, witnesses say. A leading anti-corruption group claims as much as 90 percent of U.S. money spent in Iraq is being lost to corruption. From Halliburton subsidiaries charging double for gas, Iraqi officials and Arabic translators unrestrained from pocketing millions of dollars, or even members of the interim governing Council accusing each other of taking tens of millions in bribes.

(Via Atrios. See also Peace, order and good government, eh?.)

UPDATE: Body & Soul has a good post on the corruption issue.

A Bad Penny

A South African mercenary with the Hart Group was shot in Iraq last week. in SouthAfrica reports that his body was decapitated and hung upside down. He was at home when attacked:

Branfield shared a house with four other people. The four escaped when Shi'ite Muslims attacked the house and killed Branfield.

Johannesburg's Sunday Times reports that he was a South African secret agent under Apartheid:

Iraq Victim Was Top-Secret Apartheid Killer

A security contractor killed in Iraq last week was once one of South Africa's most secret covert agents, his identity guarded so closely that even the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did not discover the extent of his involvement in apartheid's silent wars.

Gray Branfield, 55, admitted to being part of a death squad which gunned down Joe Gqabi, the ANC's chief representative and Umkhonto weSizwe operational head in Zimbabwe on July 31 1981. Gqabi was shot 19 times when three assassins ambushed him as he reversed down the driveway of his Harare home.

Author Peter Stiff this week confirmed information that Branfield was an operative identified in his books, The Silent War, Warfare By Other Means and Cry Zimbabwe as "Major Brian". He said Branfield, a former detective inspector in the Rhodesian police force specialising in covert operations against guerrilla organisations, came to South Africa after Zanu-PF came to power in 1980.

In South Africa he joined the SA Defence Force's secret Project Barnacle, a precursor to the notorious Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB) death squad.

(Via Nathan Newman.)

I C London, I C France: a weekly blog by Howard Waldrop

Public service announcement: Howard Waldrop replaces Bruce Sterling as the Infinite Matrix blogger.

More riffs from Rudy Rucker's sentence on going back to the basics -- robots, brain-eaters, starships -- and what can be done with those elements.

5.��A (human) brain-eater in a starship is stopped by a robot before it can eat the brains of the last human on the ship...

(I add the quote because Ken Houghton says the link needs a warning about what your in for.)

AND SPEAKING OF CHAIRMAN BRUCE, Sterling links to a strange art site in which a design program has set out to give the tiny European principality of Sealand an image makeover. Sealand, I suspect, doesn't not feel in need of a makeover:

The Principality of Sealand is a former World War II anti-aircraft military fortress in the North Sea. Only authorized persons directly involved in the HavenCo project are permitted to land on the island. The Sealand Government is ideal for web business, as there are no direct reporting or registration requirements.

What is HavenCo, you might ask?

HavenCo has been providing services since May 2000 and is fully operational, offering the world's most secure managed servers in the world's only true free market environment, the Principality of Sealand.  Our testing period is now over, and we can offer services to all businesses which comply with our Acceptable Use Policy.  Setup takes approximately 3-5 days, and dedicated servers in managed colocation, with ample bandwidth, are competitively priced with other secure centers around the world.

There is not much, other than child p0rnography, that does not meet their Acceptable Use Policy. So, OK, mostly they're there to serve the Internet p0rn industry. But use your imagination. What other industries might be well-served by this? They're setting themselves up to be the equivalent of a Swiss bank, but for data. This does not seem to me to be a force for good.

Is Erinsys Iraq Ahmed Chalabi's Private Army?

Recall that yesterday the NYT reported that Erinsys now employs 14,000 Iraqi security guards. This article by Knut Royce from New York Newsday (2/15/04) raises the possibility that Erinsys's 14,000 Iraqi security guards are, in effect, Ahmed Chalabi's US bank-rolled private army:

Start-Up Company With Connections

U.S. authorities in Iraq have awarded more than $400 million in contracts to a start-up company that has extensive family and, according to court documents, business ties to Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon favorite on the Iraqi Governing Council. The most recent contract, for $327 million to supply equipment for the Iraqi Armed Forces, was awarded last month and drew an immediate challenge from a losing contester, who said the winning bid was so low that it questions the "credibility" of that bid.

But it is an $80-million contract, awarded by the Coalition Provisional Authority last summer to provide security for Iraq's vital oil infrastructure, that has become a controversial lightning rod within the Iraqi Provisional Government and the security industry. Soon after this security contract was issued, the company started recruiting many of its guards from the ranks of Chalabi's former militia, the Iraqi Free Forces, raising allegations from other Iraqi officials that he was creating a private army.

Chalabi, 59, scion of one of Iraq's most politically powerful and wealthy families until the monarchy was toppled in 1958, had been living in exile in London when the U.S. invaded Iraq. The chief architect of the umbrella organization for the resistance, the Iraqi National Congress, Chalabi is viewed by many Iraqis as America's hand-picked choice to rule Iraq.

A key beneficiary of both the oil security contract and last week's Iraq army procurement contract is Nour USA Ltd., which was incorporated in the United States last May. The security contract technically was awarded to Erinys Iraq, a security company also newly formed after the invasion, but bankrolled at its inception by Nour. A Nour's founder was a Chalabi friend and business associate, Abul Huda Farouki. Within days of the award last August, Nour became a joint venture partner with Erinys and the contract was amended to include Nour.

. . . Erinys guards are being recruited from the ranks of the Iraqi Free Congress, the militia loyal to Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, Daghistani acknowledged to Britain's Financial Times in December.

Whiskey Bar and Polytropos both had a good posts on the Chalabi connection last February.

As I understand it, Erinsys's 14,000 Iraqis are not counted in the 20,000 figure for privately employed security contractors now widely cited. So if I understand correctly, IN ADDITION TO the 20,000 "civilian contractors" running around Iraq with guns, there are another 14,000 Iraqis at Chalabi's disposal, paid for by U.S. taxpayers. (Yes, they're guarding the oil, but for whom are they guarding it?)

MEANWHILE, I find on a U.S. State Department page, Security Companies Doing Business in Iraq, this ominous statement: The U.S. government assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms whose names appear on the list. If I'd said this myself, some people would think I was being hyperbolic and inflammatory.

UPDATE: Deena Larsen bring to our attention this article from March 2003 and wonders what bearing it might have on the current situation in Falluja: The strange case of Falluja 2: Confidential files reveal Tory ministers' roles in approval of gas-producing facility and plans to hide it from US . So, is there still a chemical plant in Falluja? Could this have anything to do with what the Blackwater guys were doing there?

ALSO, Christopher Laughlin of WindWizard, a Masters student in International Law at the University for Peace in Cost Rica, has written a good summary article on mercenaries and Iraq from a Peace Studies perspective.

AND FINALLY, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH THESE GUYS WHEN THEY GET HOME? Have a look at this chilling article on snipers in Iraq originally from the L.A. Times.

The corporal hopes to get back home by late fall in time to take his girlfriend to a college football game and go deer hunting with his father.

"When I go hunting for whitetail, it's for food and sport," he said. "Here, when I go hunting, it's personal, very personal."

(Via Proof through the Night.)

AND HERE'S ONE I MEANT TO BLOG LAST WEEK from Defensetech: GLIMPSE OF STATELESS WAR IN IRAQ, which I find most notable for its dystopian vision of the future of warfare.

(Via Noah Shachtman.)

UPDATE 5/20/04: Ahmed Chalabi's house has just been raided. See my new post.

Arab Mercenaries and Al Qaeda

In this country, we think of al Qaeda operatives as religious fanatics willing to give their lives for religious convictions, but I have suspected for a while that military outsourcing was not a one-way street in this global conflict. This news story from ITAR-TASS sheds some light on that dimension of al Qaeda:

Chechnya verifies reports about liquidation of Al-Qaeda emissary

The Chechen Interior Ministry has been verifying media reports to the effect that Abu al-Valid, a successor to notorious terrorist Khattab, has been liquidated in the south of Chechnya. Chief of the Chechen Interior Ministry Alu Alkhanov said that they did not have exact information yet, but a special group was created for verification of this information. . . .

After Khattab died Abu al-Valid became his successor and headed the so-called military wing of Arab mercenaries in Chechnya and was believed to have links with Al-Qaeda.

There are arab mercenaries in Chechnya; there are arab mercenaries in Afghanistan; surely, there are arab mercenaries in Iraq, and not just on our side; perhaps even some with al Qaeda. I would like to know more.

Not Your Daddy's New York Times Book Review!

Last month, The New York Times named Sam Tanenhaus editor of the NYT Book Review. In a harbinger of thing to come, today's NYT features a review by Choire Sicha of Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes which begins:

Bergdorf Blondes should inspire readers everywhere to rise up and rip one another limbless. It is not impossible that such a spontaneous revolution will begin first in New York City. After encountering this novel's manifestation of cultural illness, the tribes of the outer boroughs may be impelled to march upon Manhattan to enslave the emotionally warped hoarders of jewels and neuroses who reside therein.

In all seriousness: we must build a tiny apocalypse-proof time capsule. If we can resist the temptation to burn Plum Sykes's book, we can smuggle it into the future. Perhaps the next breed of humanoids can learn from the holocaust of culture and commerce that destroyed our icky civilization.

This is what's known as a killer review. It contains such lines as In fact, ''Bergdorf Blondes'' makes ''Sex and the City'' resemble a carefully constructed anarcho-feminist critique of capitalist society. The book in question is within a hair of making the NYT Bestseller list.

I should stop and say that, in general, I think reviews of the strengths and weaknesses of good books are what should occupy space in the pages of book reviews. What people like about books tends to be more interesting and illuminating than what they dislike. There are, however, exceptions and this book is probably one of those justifiable exceptions.

The Times Book Review is making an example of a book cynically written, published, marketed, and sold and is sending a message that the NYT Book Review will not tolerate this level of cynicism from the publishing industry.

I stand up and cheer (while hoping that Tanenhaus does not regard science fiction as cynically written and published). Looks like we're in for a wild ride!

(Via Electrolite.)

Consider the GTS Katie: Lessons for the Iraq Situation

Once again, I would like to point out that military privatization should not be a left vs. right issue, but rather is a matter of national security and national sovereignty. Here's another fine anecdote from P. W. Singer's Must-Read, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry:

An episode from recent Canadian military experience illustrates how unexpected problems can arise whenever control is given over to private agents. In July 2000, the GTS Katie, a contracted military transport ship, was carrying back from Bosnia a unit of Canadian Army soldiers, more than 550 vehicles, including tanks and personnel carriers, and 350 containers of ammunition and other sensitive gear. However, due to a financial dispute between two subcontracting agents, the ship began sailing in circles outside Canadian waters. Until the matter was resolved, the ship refused to make delivery, essentially holding about one third of the entire Canadian army's equipment and soldiers hostage. The standoff lasted for almost two weeks, during which time a sizable chunk of the Canadian military's inventory was unavailable, solely because its leadership had privatized transportation to save a minimal amount. (p. 160)

In the end, the Canadian Navy had to go out and seize the ship to end the stand-off.

I don't remember hearing anything about this in the US Press. I called a few Canadians and was told that while it was front page news, the Canadians are used to being humiliated about their lack of military preparedness. It is my understanding that the incident was blamed on the Liberal government for under-funding the military and thus forcing it to rely upon private contractors. For more details about the incident, see:

The web site of the Canadian Navy: HMCS Athabaskan Carries Out Boarding of GTS Katie

CBC: GTS Katie putts into Quebec and Canada seized U.S. ship despite deal, owner says

Singer has more anecdotes privatization of gone wrong and his research suggests that the more use of private contractors is monitored, the fewer saving from privatization can be realized. And without hard figures, there is no special reason to believe that a privately provided service will be cheaper in any case.

REGARDING THE MATTER AT HAND, private military firms operating in Iraq, the NYT reports today that:

There is no central oversight of the companies, no uniform rules of engagement, no consistent standards for vetting or training new hires. Some security guards complain bitterly of being thrust into combat without adequate firepower, training or equipment. There are stories of inadequate communication links with military commanders and of security guards stranded and under attack without reinforcements.

Only now are authority officials working to draft rules for private security companies. The rules would require all the companies to register and be vetted by Iraq's Ministry of Interior. They would also give them the right to detain civilians and to use deadly force in defense of themselves or their clients. "Fire only aimed shots," reads one proposed rule, according to a draft obtained by The New York Times.

Fire only aimed shots? I suppose they alo have to spell out that this is real life and not a movie.

The same piece also mentions Erinys: Erinys, a company barely known in the security industry before the war, now employs about 14,000 Iraqis. Corpwatch has this to say about Erinys:

Erinys' yearlong $39.5 million contract to protect 140 Iraqi oil installations, for which it beat out larger and more established competitors, will start this October. The Johannesburg-based company will be also offering its protection services to contractors Bechtel and Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root.

According to Erinys' own publicity, the company is currently the exclusive providers of "guarding and protective services, secure warehousing, security escorts, visit logistics and protective escorts, transportation and logistics for land access from neighbouring countries."

Handmaidens of Occupation

But the coalition's relationship with Erinys is not exactly transparent. The coalition apparently contracted the company through an "oil security" solicitation issued on July 17, but the details of this solicitation, and the subsequent award to Erinys, are unavailable from the Coalition Provisional Authority (the entity created by the United States government to oversee the occupation of the country).

In Greek mythology, the Erinys were three goddesses, attendants of Hades and Persephone, who guarded the Underworld. Here on modern earth, the company has main offices in Johannesburg and Dubai, and opened a field office in Baghdad in May. A South African news report said Erinys is already providing security and risk management services to "two large multinational companies" operating in Iraq.

While the company does not appear in international business directories and is only a year old, its website names five managers and directors, but does not identify its ownership structure: most of whom have been affiliated with Armor Holdings, a Florida-based security company and Defence Systems Limited, a British company which merged with Armor in 1997.

A former British Special Air Services (SAS) officer, director Alastair Morrison was co-founder and CEO of Defence Systems from 1981 to 1999. Morrison is currently affiliated with Armor Holdings, in which he holds $2.1 million worth of stock. Fraser Brown, who directs Erinys' security operations, has worked for DSL/Armor since 1999. Jonathan Garratt, Erinys' managing director, has worked for DSL and Armor since 1992. The two other Erinys officials named on the website have no apparent ties to either company: Sean Cleary is a South African risk management expert while Bill Elder previously worked as Bechtel's corporate security manager.

Private Security and Oil Protection

Erinys' website touts "management experience" in providing security services for dozens of transnational corporations, such as Ashanti Gold and BP-Amoco. These companies' past security actions hint at what awaits Iraq.

Last month, for example, the Ghanaian NGO, Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM), released a report detailing alleged human rights abuses at an Ashanti gold mine. It relays eyewitness accounts of Ashanti Gold security personnel torturing, beating, and killing local small-scale miners between 1994 and 2002. WACAM further alleges that corporate security used guard dogs to feed on trespassers.

Here's another bit from the NYT article:

Early on in the war, private security contractors came mostly from elite Special Operations forces. It is a small enough world that checking credentials was easy. But as demand has grown, so has the difficulty of finding and vetting qualified people.

. . . and another:

Many security guards are hired as "independent contractors" by companies that, in turn, are sub-contractors of larger security companies, which are themselves subcontractors of a prime contractor, which may have been hired by a United States agency.

In practical terms, these convoluted relationships often mean that the governmental authorities have no real oversight of security companies on the public payroll.

(Thanks to Gary Farber & David Hartwell for nudging me in the direction of this long, meaty article.)

New Zealand's Mercenary Activities (Prohibition) Bill

This New Zealand Green Party press release calls my attention to a good piece of legislation currently in progress, the Mercenary Activities (Prohibition) Bill

Iraq-bound NZers could be mercenaries under law

Iraq-bound NZers could be mercenaries under new law.

Green MP Keith Locke today warned New Zealanders contemplating 'security' work in Iraq that active involvement in the conflict for money will soon be a criminal offence under the mercenary bill returned to Parliament yesterday.

The Mercenary Activities (Prohibition) Bill, which aims to bring New Zealand into line with the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, returned from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee, of which Mr Locke is a member. It is aimed at a relatively narrow definition of "true" mercenaries - unaffiliated individuals who fight wars, overthrow governments or commit terrorism for money.

"This Bill should make New Zealanders think twice about chasing $1000-a-day jobs in Iraq; as should their local recruiting agents who could qualify to up to 14 years imprisonment," said Mr Locke, the Green Party Spokesperson on Defence.

"If someone is carrying out a role usually associated with security guards or police, like the New Zealander who has been accompanying a BBC TV crew, they have no worries under this legislation. "However, the Bill now uses the term 'take part in hostilities', rather than 'fighting', which means that if a New Zealander is effectively supporting the US occupation by, say, guarding military facilities or convoys, they could be deemed to be a mercenary and be prosecuted upon their return. This is an appropriate distinction, as the privatisation of military operations in Iraq is setting a worrying precedent.


Here's a good link for the nosy neighbor in you, provided you live in the kind of neighborhood where people make big political contributions:

Fundrace 2004 Neighbor Search

Use the location search (on your home address) to find those who live near you that have made presidential campaign contributions. You can also search for friends or celebrities by name.

Much to my surprise I discovered that someone who lives two houses away whom I had taken for a straight-laced financial services type gave a thousand bucks to Howard Dean! It warms my heart.

(Via The Heart of Wood.)

Saudi Crackdown

Here's a couple of odd pieces from the BBC on happenings in Saudi Arabia. As the US government issues a travel warning advising US citizens to leave Saudi Arabia, Saudia Arabia cracks down on liberal intellectuals and advocates of women's rights under the guise of cracking down on terrorism:

Saudis 'arrest five reformists': Saudi authorities have arrested five of the country's best-known reformist intellectuals, sources told the BBC.

Those arrested are both liberal and Islamist figures who have put their names to petitions calling for wide-ranging political and economic reform.

They include publisher Mohammed Said Tayib - one of the prime movers organising petitions calling on the House of Saud to accelerate reform.
. . .
Saudi analysts say the arrests may be a warning-shot designed to deter the liberals at a time when the ruling princes find themselves under an unprecedented degree of pressure.

More than 800 liberal reformers signed a petition only last month calling for an elected parliament and a bigger role for women.

(See also Saudis arrest religious reformist.)

Speaking of Death Threats

9/11 commissioner: 'I've received threats'

Jamie Gorelick, a member of the commission investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, said Saturday that she received death threats this week after a number of conservatives alleged that her former work in the Justice Department may have contributed to failures leading to the attacks.

Someone threatening a former U.S. deputy attorney general has got to be awfully stupid. It's probably some jerk in his underwear at his home computer, thinking he can threaten anonymously, raging at the machine.

Gorelick responds to the conservatives' allegations in the Wahington Post.

Food Staple Price Increases

The New York Times discusses inflation:

The inflation rate, barely noticeable for years, is picking up again in the United States. And even if many American families have yet to curtail their spending, they are certainly annoyed.

And toward the end of the article there is a discussion of some price increases on food staples:

A gallon jug of milk purchased at Pathmark on Thursday for $3.89 cost $3.49 a week or two ago, she said, and her son goes through two to three gallons a week. He also likes butter on his bread - eight ounces were $2.50 this week versus $1.25 a couple of months ago - and he is a big eater of eggs, at $2.19 a dozen versus $1.59 a couple of months ago, Ms. Simpson said.

These are some pretty big price jumps. Are these the effects of agibusiness cleaning up its act? I suspect not. Do this increases reflect high gasoline prices? Somehow I doubt that the farmers themselves are getting richer.

An Interview with the Italian Foreign Minister

The Italian Foreign Office has posted an interesting interview, relating to the death of the Italian hostage Fabrizio Quattrocchi, with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on its web site:

Q. Minister Frattini, you have ruled out negotiations, but not dialogue. What do you mean by that?"

R. "That was our strategy during the revolt in Nassirya: not negotiations to grant their requests but an immediate table for dialogue. And it worked. But in Nassirya there was a chain of command and that, unfortunately, is not the case here".

Q. What is the Italian government willing to put on the table for dialogue?

R. "We are willing to say that in the province of Nassirya our action will focus even more strongly on the protection of the population, on security, services and the necessities of everyday life. And we are also prepared to say that we will do everything possible to ensure that this line of action comes to be adopted even in those provinces not under our command. We are offering to act as interpreters to convey to the Americans the need for a more receptive attitude to the needs of the Iraqi people and a greater willingness to engage in dialogue and avoid Iraqi civilian deaths".

Q. Do you mean that you will try to "put the brakes on" the Americans in the field?

R. "As soon as we receive some signal on the hostages, we are ready to tell the Americans that the right way forward is dialogue with all the Iraqi civil and religious authorities, and that we must all undertake avoid any action that goes further than being a defence from attacks, and to take every possible step to avoid Iraqi civilian deaths. Our commitment is to speak seriously with the Americans: we are not asking to discuss the withdrawal of troops or a recognition of terrorism. We must not negotiate with terrorist movements. We will try to carry out this task of persuasion".

I also came across this terse item which I'm not sure what to make of, suggesting that the Italian Foreign Office is concerned that it does not know which of its citizens are privately employed as civilian contractors in Iraq.


Perhaps it's time to revisit a news story from last fall. Washington Post, September 28, 2003 : Cliques, Clicks, Bullies and Blogs has many fine resources for those being harassed over the Internet.

And here's a bit about Canadian Law and bullying over the Internet.

Here's an especially good one:
Cyberbullying: Cyber bullies, flame mail, hate mail

The seventh rule is decide if you want to take action , and if so, prepare carefully and strike hard . Sometimes refusing to respond and engage will result in the cyberbully losing interest and going off to find someone easier to torment. Sometimes though, especially if there has been interaction in the past, the cyberbully is so obsessed that s/he cannot and will not let go. You will have to make that person let go, but only through swift, hard, legal action, and only when the time is right.

The same site has an excellent profile of the serial bully.

One complication not dealt with by most of these resources is group bullying by adults. Maneuvers that allow you to lose one cyber-stalker may inflame another. So it is necessary to deal with group bullying over the Internet from the top down.

UPDATE (4/20/04): The FBI has a nice piece on the subject of harassment over the Internet, "A Study on Cyberstalking: Understanding Investigative Hurdles," published in the March 2003 FBI Law Enforcement Bulluten (pdf).

With a Little Help from My Friends

A new report from Robert Fisk:
Deaths of scores of mercenaries not reported

At least 80 foreign mercenaries - security guards recruited from the United States, Europe and South Africa and working for American companies - have been killed in the past eight days in Iraq.

Lieutenant-General Mark Kimmitt admitted on Tuesday that "about 70" American and other Western troops had died during the Iraqi insurgency since April 1 but he made no mention of the mercenaries, apparently fearful that the full total of Western dead would have serious political fallout.

He did not give a figure for Iraqi dead, which, across the country may be as high as 900.

(Via email from Andrea Eastman.)

Gary Farber has also sent me a few good links while I've been occupied with other things:

Phil Carter: The problems with private military corporations, and Phil Carter again, this time in Slate: Hired Guns. In the second piece, Carter raises an issue I've been wondering about for a while: how the civilian commando-types square up to the label "unlawful combatant," used for those held in Guantanamo Bay.

ALSO, thanks to the many friends who've sent me kind notes regarding Peter's health. Kids bounce back fast. He was discharged from the hospital late Saturday and was well enough to go to school on Monday. Today he even had the stamina to go to Tai Kwan Do. There are some lingering medical issues that will probably involve extensive testing. But retrospectively, he seems to see the experience as an extended opportunity to watch TV.

(And for those of you who notice a few recent entries missing, I got sick of looking at them. The original pages are still there. Fighting and invective is not what this blog is about.)

Non-State Violence

Here's a really fine NYT piece on non-state violence that deserves a lot more discussion than I can give it right now:

When U.S. Aided Insurgents, Did It Breed Future Terrorists?

In the varied explanations for the 9/11 attacks and the rise in terrorism, two themes keep recurring. One is that Islamic culture itself is to blame, leading to a clash of civilizations, or, as more nuanced versions have it, a struggle between secular-minded and fundamentalist Muslims that has resulted in extremist violence against the West. The second is that terrorism is a feature of the post-cold-war landscape, belonging to an era in which international relations are no longer defined by the titanic confrontation between two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

But in the eyes of Mahmood Mamdani, a Uganda-born political scientist and cultural anthropologist at Columbia University, both those assumptions are wrong. Not only does he argue that terrorism does not necessarily have anything to do with Islamic culture; he also insists that the spread of terror as a tactic is largely an outgrowth of American cold war foreign policy. After Vietnam, he argues, the American government shifted from a strategy of direct intervention in the fight against global Communism to one of supporting new forms of low-level insurgency by private armed groups.

"In practice," Mr. Mamdani has written, "it translated into a United States decision to harness, or even to cultivate, terrorism in the struggle against regimes it considered pro-Soviet." The real culprit of 9/11, in other words, is not Islam but rather non-state violence in general, during the final stages of the stand-off with the Soviet Union. Using third and fourth parties, the C.I.A. supported terrorist and proto-terrorist movements in Indochina, Latin America, Africa and, of course, Afghanistan, he argues in his new book, "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror" (Pantheon).

I just pre-ordered a copy of Mahmood Mamdani which comes out April 20th.

Mercenary News of the Weird

In a further continuation of the mercenary fad, here is a proposed use of mercenaries that just never would have occurred to me:

Team Amber Alert Plans BoyCott of Recovery Reality TV Show

Amarillo TX (TAA NEWS)--Grass Root BoyCott Being Rallied To Stop Reabduction Reality Show named "Recovery"

As promissed last year if the reality tv project proceeded, Team Amber Alert would call for a National boycott of sponsors for this pilot and any series of it.

Mark Burnett Productions please cease and desist planned series!

Deceptive in their approach, Baz's recruiting for left behind parent(s) and/or family members to share their case and to recover the missing children. Many were approached by private investigators through several non profit service provider's online websites and chat rooms.

The "Offer was FREE Private Investigator " to solve their cases. Without first stating the true nature of the free help Kelly and other from Baz's production unit request the parent to sign disclosure agreement and waivers for liability. Many parents retracted their support once the potential harm was recognized. When confronted over the phone , Mr. Baz was curt and unconcerned about the safety issues raised about the methods of the operation recovery. Baz stopped returning all email, phone calls and communitions. This alarmed many because of the detailed effort to obtain information on left behind community by former miltary mercenaries. So called professional Soldiers gone Hollywood. There was then and remains now no good way to do what they propose.

Reabductions is child abuse as much as the initial abduction. It also infringes on the human rights of the child and may pose Human Rights Violation found in several US Treaties. If you can help please contact us. Lets roll to stop inappropriate "Vigilantism" by mercenaries. Whether in this country or abroad such acts endanger the child further and their families. Psychological imapact is as deep as the original abduction. One has to question the intent of Baz, Kelly or any others in this matter. Mark Burnette Productions vantage point is clear for them "If situtations can be exploited lets do it".

Just as astonishing as it is horrifying.

Rota Virus

My six-year-old son Peter is hopitalized with a bad case of rota virus. I'm going to take a few days off from this to deal with matters at hand.

Before I sign off, my husband David wants everyone to know that he will be appeaing with poet Albert Goldbarth on a program entitled In Some Strange Powers Employ: Poetry & Science Fiction sponsored by The Poetry Foundation. It is on Wednesday, April 28th, with a reception at 6 PM, and the program itself from 6:30 to 8:30 PM at the Newberry Library, 60 West Walton Street, Chicago. Admission $5. Revervations are required. For tickets, visit or call The Poetry Foundation at (312)787-7070.

Morning Mercenary Roundup

In Chile, an accusation against Blackwater has been filed in criminal court:

Chilean lawmakers accuse US firm of illegally recruiting mercenaries

Two Chilean lawmakers on Thursday accused  US security firm Blackwater Security Consulting of illegally recruiting  mercenaries for security tasks in Iraq.

Leal and Alejandro Navarro said Blackwater's recruitment, which hires Chilean army  veterans, puts public order and national security at risk.

. . . Navarro, of the Socialist Party, said the accusation was filed in the 17th  criminal court of Santiago.

�"We are going to legislate to end with the mercenaries" and ban foreign  companies from recruiting mercenary soldiers in Chile, Navarro said. 

MEANWHILE in Equatorial Guinea:

'Mercenaries told investigators everything' (IOL):

Harare - A group of 15 alleged mercenaries detained in Equatorial Guinea had planned to wipe out the entire family of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, his interior minister Manuel Nguema Mba said during a trip to Harare on Wednesday.

Mba, who is visiting Harare where another group of 70 alleged mercenaries linked to the supposed plot are being detained, said the South African accused of leading the group in Malabo, Nick du Toit, had told Equatorial Guinean investigators "everything".

"He (du Toit) told us everything that was planned. He said the objective was to kill the entire family of President Obiang Nguema and bring (opposition leader) Severo Moto from Spain," ZIANA news agency quoted Mba as saying.

AND finally, from New Zealand, an editorial on why the world needs mercenaries.

Quick Note

I've been busy today, but my husband found this item of interest:

Senators call for better control of civilian security workers in Iraq

The Pentagon needs to take better control of the civilian security contractors working in Iraq, members of the Senate told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday.

Here's another good one before I go to bed:

Under Fire, Security Firms Form An Alliance

Under assault by insurgents and unable to rely on U.S. and coalition troops for intelligence or help under duress, private security firms in Iraq have begun to band together in the past 48 hours, organizing what may effectively be the largest private army in the world, with its own rescue teams and pooled, sensitive intelligence.

Sounds Like a Setup for a Massacre to Me

From the Chicago Sun Times:
Bodyguards in Iraq turn to 'massive firepower' after attack


BAGHDAD -- American bodyguards in Iraq want to strengthen their weaponry with hand grenades and high-powered machineguns after four private security consultants were murdered in Fallujah last week.

Only coalition soldiers are allowed to carry explosives under existing regulations, leaving up to 20,000 civilian contractors working as guards outgunned by insurgents with rocket-propelled grenades and belt-fed machineguns.

The Coalition Provisional Authority is horrified by the contractors' plans to flout the rules, believing that such action could lead to a serious escalation in violence as the June deadline approaches for power to be transferred to the Iraqis.

On Saturday, however, Malcolm Nance, a former adviser to the CIA and the U.S. National Security Agency who has spent 10 months in Iraq supervising security for businesses and charities, warned that firms would "go heavy" to prevent a repeat of last week's murders.

The bodies of the four security consultants were mutilated by a cheering mob of Iraqis after their vehicles were hit by rocket-propelled grenades. Weapons such as hand grenades can be bought in the city's illegal weapons markets for as little as a dollar.

Nance said his personnel would now be using "massive firepower."

"People are going into battle now. In military terms, we describe a hand grenade as a "break contact" device used as a final option to stop any contact in an enemy attack.

"Nobody I have employed out here uses them, but I would imagine thatbreak contact devices will get used a lot more as a result of the incident in Fallujah.

"Security escorts will continue to be discreet, but everybody here is waiting to get hit. My own escorts will be increasing their manpower in each vehicle."

British security firms, which tend to adopt a lower-key approach, are alarmed by the prospect of American guards increasing their weaponry.

"The last thing we need is loads of Americans running around grenading people," said one company manager. "But I fear that a few may end up carrying grenades, and God knows what other weapons, too."

Most private guards in Iraq have relied on Kalashnikovs or MP5 machine pistols and sidearms, believing that their superior military training made them a match for attackers. Last week's deaths have forced them to review their tactics.

"The guys in Fallujah were nearly all ex-Special Forces and from one of the best security companies going," Nance said. "People might be wearing body armor and carrying helmets and high-velocity weapons, but that won't protect you against a rocket-propelled grenade, which can just obliterate your car."

(Via Sheilagh in the comments)

UPDATE 4:17 PM: There's some kind of armed insurrection going on in Iraq:
CNN: Sources: Al-Sadr supporters take over Najaf

Some Thoughts on MPRI

The Center for Public Integrity (Investigative Journalism in the Public Interest) has a very interesting online project: Windfalls of War: US Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They focus solely on companies doing business with the US government (i. e. they exclude government contracts in Iraq with the UK) and most of the hard information on contracts predates the current private "security" goldrush, so for example, Blackwater has no listing. But there's a lot of fun stuff here. Also excluded from the group's Freedom of Information Act requests was information about contracts with the Bremer regime:

While the Defense and State Departments have granted the lion's share of contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan directly from Washington, a few U.S. companies have made their deals directly with local governing authorities that have emerged with U.S. support or direction.

The companies do not appear on the lists of contracts the Center for Public Integrity obtained under the Freedom of Information Act; their direct dealings with the provisional authorities in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the complexity of tracking the role of private companies in the post-war countries.

They have a good write up on the Alexandria, Virginia, military firm Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), which covers, among other things, the reason why MPRI has the distinction of being the only private military firm to have been discussed in the Hague by a war crimes tribunal (Singer, p. 122-3):

In 1994 and 1995, MPRI was paid millions of dollars under a U.S. government-sanctioned contract to train the Croatian military. In August 1995, the previously inept Croatian army launched "Operation Storm," a U.S.-style military offensive designed to take back part of the country held throughout the war by rebel Serbs. Critics charged that MPRI provided training and tactical skills that enabled the Croatian military to perpetrate one of the largest episodes of ethnic cleansing in the breakup of former Yugoslavia. MPRI denied those charges. The offensive left hundreds dead and 150,000 homeless. Afterwards, the Croatian government expressed its gratitude to MPRI for its help in training its military. MPRI was later hired to train the new Bosnian army after the Dayton Peace Accords ended the war in former Yugoslavia.

MPRI is also the firm to whom the job of writing the US government manuals on how to utilize private military contractors was subcontracted: FM 100-10-2, Contracting Support on the Battle Field and FM-100-21: Contractors on the Battle Field (Singer pp 123-124). So, apparently, they got to write the rules on how the government will contract with them.

Googling on items like MPRI and Hague or Operation Storm yeild a daunting quantity of information; more than I feel able to cope with just now. But there seems to be a substantial contingent which believes that MPRI bears some significant responsibility civilian casualties of Operation Storm:

Was the US behind the single greatest act of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia?

"In early August 1995," writes researcher Gregory Elich, "the Croatian invasion of Serbian Krajina precipitated the worst refugee crisis of the Yugoslav civil war. Within days, more than two hundred thousand Serbs, virtually the entire population of Krajina, fled their homes, and 14,000 Serbian civilians lost their lives." ("The invasion of Serbian Krajina," NATO in the Balkans: Voices of Opposition, International Action Center, New York, 1998.)

This was Operation Storm, "the largest single act of ethnic cleansing of the Yugoslav civil war," according to Even Dyer, a journalist with CBC Radio. "And yet not one person has been arrested and brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia" ("Croatian atrocities being forgotten: Cdn. Officers," CBC News, July 21, 2003.)

Now, the subject of who committed war crimes in a situation like that is extremely complex. (Its complexity is nicely discussed in The Fog of Justice from The New York Review of Books.) Nonetheless, the matter raises troubling issues for the implications of military subcontracting. One of MPRI's current contracts in Iraq is to train the new Iraqi Army.

In midst of this mass rush to defend our defence and military outsourcing policies, we need to stop and consider. Using private contractors to perform functions traditionally performed by our military has complex implications. Restricting privately hired men with guns to defensive assignments does not eliminate the perception or actuality that we've hired mercenaries. Nor does restricting contractors to "training" functions keep them from attracting the attention of war crimes tribunals. This deniability is a sham, and it's important that as a country we come to grips with this as quickly as possible.

An Object of Contemplation

Stumbling around white supremicist web sites, I came across a peculiar white supremicist argument for military outsourcing, one which never would have occurred to me. Now, these people are not really arguing for outsourcing, but for outright military cuts, though in a fairly belicose context. Nonetheless, this whole line of reasoning comes as a shock to me. Cutting through the thicket of paranoia in this passage, I see a novel argument:

All modern warfare has been at the expense of our White gene pool. All modern institutions are designed to stifle White racial aggression to the betterment and expansion, of lesser races. War breeds phoney patriotism to a multi-racial nation. The diverse races and religions of North America will ultimately sink into Third World poverty and disease, until White men and women turn the tide.

In short, military warfare benefits a very few, at the expense of the many. Warfare destroys needed natural resources, and diminishes the best breeding stock of our race. It promotes race-mixing, and racial pollution. Other dangers are that all sophisticated spy satellites and star wars style weapons may be used, ultimately against those that were bankrupted paying for them.

Make no mistake. The so-called end of the communist struggle, marks the beginning of "Operation Mop-Up", by transnational financial cartels, and the Universalist Cult behind them.

Among our enemies, White racism or Separatism is the new target. If need be, the same polyglot forces and weapons tested rather recently on Iraq and Serbia, will be used against us, if it becomes necessary.

Logic: War is a racket. Support at least a 75% cut in the war budget, not only in this country, but in every country in the world. White Separatists must oppose system controlled warfare; our war is right here at home!

Could some of the motivation for outsourcing military functions to private military firms be a matter of the buyer wanting a greater control over the race of the soldiers? How strange.

My First Breastfeeding Complaint

After a combined total of three years of breastfeeding, I've had my first complaint. I've nursed in so many public situations it makes me tired to even think about listing them. I am rarely uncomfortable about it, but there are times when it is a bit dicey: when doing public speaking or at the beach in a bathing suit. But it was not one of those situations that generated the complaint.

I nurse my daughter every day when I pick her up from her morning daycare program. I walk in the door if the infant room and she says "Nurse, nurse!" and I sit down in the infant room and we nurse. The other day, the father of one of the other babies came to pick up his son and witnessed this interchange. I'm told that the complained to the head of the preschool, who asked the woman who runs the infant room to mention it to me.

I shake my head.

The Problem of Civilian Commandos

"This is basically a new phenomenon: corporatized private military services doing the front-line work soldiers used to do," said Peter W. Singer, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington who has written a book on the industry, "Corporate Warriors" (Cornell University Press, 2003).

"And they're not out there screening passengers at the airports," Mr. Singer  said. "They're taking mortar  and sniper fire." (NYT, 4/2/04)

I think we can all agree that the civilian commandos killed the other day, and all the rest of those privately employed as soldiers, deserve the same consideration as any one else. That having been said, how can we go about getting it for them?

When killed, they are not reported as military casualties. That is one feature which makes them attractive to the coalition government. Secondly, if they go off the wires, the coalition government has deniability. (No one has yet rushed forward to claim responsibility for retaining the planeload of privately employed soldiers currently held in Zimbabwe.)

I'm getting a lot of people emoting in my direction about the deaths of the civilian commandos. But it was not I who sent them out, without backup, into a situation deemed too dangerous for US troops and used them up like so many paper plates. The problem for Bremer is not that they died, but that the desecration of their corpses happened on camera. This is a huge PR disaster for him, both because it raises the prices of this kind of outsourcing and because it engages our sympathies for the plight of expendable privately hired commandos.

Let's all get together and ask for more transparency in the process: How many privately employed soldiers are there? What companies are being retained and for what purpose? How many privately employed soldiers have been killed and wounded in Iraq? Were they employed by the US, by US companies? In what capacity? Have there been any problems with the quality of the service provided by these privately employed soldiers? What has been done about it? What safeguards exist? Have there been Iraqi civilian casualties resulting from the actions of these privately employed soldiers? Have there been any friendly fire incidents involving privately employed soldiers?  For the benefit of everyone involved, privately employed soldiers need to become less expendable and deniable.

And then there's the small matter of money. The New York Times sheds some light on the civilian commandos' level of compensation:

To meet the rising demand, the  companies  are offering yearly  salaries ranging from $100,000 to nearly $200,000 to entice senior military Special Operations forces to switch careers. Assignments are paying from a few hundred dollars to as much as $1,000 a day, military officials said.

What do US soldiers in Iraq make? Why are we paying these guys so much more when the money could be spent training and supporting our own troops?

In the same article, Representative Jan  Schakowsky had some very smart things to say:

Representative Jan  Schakowsky,  Democrat of  Illinois, has also argued that the United States'  growing use of private military companies  hides the financial, personal and political costs of military operations overseas, since the concerns  face little public scrutiny.

In particular, Ms. Schakowsky has objected to administration plans to increase the number of private military contractors in Colombia, where three American civilians working for a Northrup Grumman subsidiary have been held hostage by Marxist rebels for more than a year. The three were on a mission to search for cocaine laboratories and drug planes when they were captured.

"I continue to oppose the use of military contractors who are not subject to the same kind of scrutiny and accountability as U.S. soldiers," Ms. Schakowsky said  last week. "When things go wrong for these contractors, they and their families have been shamefully forgotten by their American employers."

BY THE WAY, it seems to me that I ought to discuss the composition process of my post Iraq: The Secret Policeman's Other Ball. Particularly among the trolls whose posts I've deleted, there seems to be the general assumption that the post is in response the deaths of the civilian commandos. It was not.

Rather, I had been working on the post for three days, accumulating links and quotes on the problem of mercenaries overrunning Iraq and was adding the last few links before publishing the post. I wanted an appropriate picture of mercenaries to link to and has having a hard time finding one, a much harder time than I would have expected. I guess they don't like having their pictures taken and they have guns, so photographers don't mess with them.  I was trying out all kinds of euphemisms for mercenary on Google Images, and finally got this picture of a burning car.

I noticed a few minutes later that the date associated with the picture was the 31st, that very day. I followed the link to the story, and that is when I found out about the deaths. My brief write-up and links were nearly the last things I did on that post. It was pure coincidence that it was timely.

I do not believe that private military firms are all bad nor that they can do only harm. Most of the world's removal of mines from former combat zones is contracted to private military companies. This is appropriate and all for the good.

But what's going on in Iraq is very large scale, anarchic, and probably largely untracked. (I don't think most of my questions above can be answered by Bremer because I think he doesn't know the answers.) And what's worse, the Bush Administration is doing this as a matter of conscious strategy because of an ideological commitment to outsourcing and because it is politically expedient even though the longterm result of this policy will be to seriously weaken American armed forces by robbing them of money and personnel while at the same time hatching new military actors with desires that will eventually run contrary to our national security.

The descriptions of how many private military companies operate strike me as awfully similar to the lengthy explanations of why al  Qaida is so insidious: the portability and discretion of their operations, etc. Also, Sandline, at least, was know to use an Enron-like maze of shell companies to hide the true nature of its dealings. Never mind that the high salaries paid by companies like Blackwater are luring the best and brightest from our military forces out of public service. It is very hard to distinguish this realm of free enterprise from organized crime.

What I think is it's most important point of that first post, one that the emoters seem not to get, is that this security blanket being spread over occupied Iraq has become the UK's largest export. That's how big this thing is. This is not really about the morals of four commandos, but about an immense economic shift, one that should make all of us uncomfortable because it is so little examined. Also, this is not really a left vs. right issue. This shift has been going on since about 1990 and administrations from both parties have participated. This is a shift that neither party has properly examined, and neither has coherent policy statements on. My fear is that the industry has grown so big so fast, that for economic reasons, we may already be too late for policy.

Let's Define Mercenary

I've had a few requests for a more specific definition of mercenary. What exactly are we talking about when we speak of mercenaries here?

When I started writing about mercenaries a few weeks ago, it was much more clear cut: those guys aboard N4610 detained in Zimbabwe are definitely mercenaries; they were hired by someone to overthrow a government. (Whether the government in question is in need of a regime change does not bear on the question of whether they are mercenaries.)

I ignored the matter of Private Military Companies operating in Iraq for quite a while, since it was my assumption that what they were replacing were cooks, stock boys, delivery men, the kind of security guards that stand in the same place all day with a gun, etc.  But I was disturbed that I kept encountering facts suggesting a lot more was being outsourced.

Defining mercenary is difficult and there are a variety of definitions. The short version is that when I say mercenary, I mean either a professional soldier or someone (regardless of professional qualifications) hired to act in that capacity and not formally enlisted in any state's army.

I have been reading P. W. Singer's excellent book, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry. He devotes considerable discussion to the precise definition.

His definition of mercenary is on p. 43:

What Makes a Mercenary?

Seven essential characteristics distinguish modern-day mercenaries from other combatants and military organizations:

Foreign: A mercenary is not a citizen or resident of the state in which he or she is fighting
Independence: A mercenary is not integrated (for the long term) into any national force and is bound only by contractual ties of a limited employer
Motivation: A mercenary fights for individual  short-term economic reward, not for political or religious goals
Recruitment: Mercenaries are brought in by oblique and circuitous ways to avoid legal prosecution
Organization: Mercenary units are temporary and ad-hoc groupings of individual soldiers
Services: Lacking prior organization, mercenaries focus just on combat service, for a single client

My definition conflicts with his on only two points. Recruitment and Services. While the non-Anglo-American mercenaries in Iraq may have been recruited against the wishes of their home countries, as a group, they seem to have the blessing of the Bush administration. To me, this does not make them any less mercenaries. But rather, this is a problem with the Bush administration. Also, the very fact that they are called "civilian contractors" seems to me a deliberate attempt to conceal the military nature of their mission. Regarding their services, this point seems most useful for distinguishing traditional mercenaries from private military  companies, not mercenaries from true civilians.

He also defines Private Military Firm on p. 47:

How Are PMFs Different?

Organization: Prior Corporate Structure
Motives: Business Profit-Driven rather than Individual Profit-Driven
Open Market: Legal, Public Entities
Services: Wider Range, Varied Clientele
Recruitment: Public, Specialized
Linkages: Tied to Corporate Holdings and Financial Markets

For the most part I would consider the soldier employees of PMFs to be mercenaries.

I'm planning to review Singers book and so I don't want to go on and on about all the illuminating information in it right now, especially since I'm only 1/3 through it. But there is one further passage I think of as a definitional touchstone (p. 64):

While economics has always played a role in conflict, the end of the twentieth century saw a new type of warfare develop, centered on profit-seeking enterprise. It was organized mass violence, but of a type that involved the blurring of traditional conceptions of war (what Clausewitz defined as violence between states or organized groups for political purposes), organized crime (violence by private organized groups undertaken for private purposes, usually financial gain), and large-scale violations of human rights.

BACK FROM PETER'S YOGA CLASS, WHERE I READ FURTHER: Singer does a nice job classifying the role of "security" provided by private military firms (p. 73):

Some [firms], such as Vinnell or Booz Allen, are relatively hidden as divisions within a larger corporate structure. Others such as Armourgroup, identify themselves as outside the military field, using the more legitimate-sounding moniker of "private security firms." Their claim is that they provide only passive services for private clients in domestic situations. However, they are far different from the security guard s that work at the local shopping malls. A number of "private security firms" are neither quiescent in their operations, nor are the settings in which they operate either peaceful or even civilian in nature. From offering training in special forces tactics to providing armed units designed to repel guerrilla attacks, both their services and impact are definitely military in nature.

AND FOR THE TRUE CONSPIRACY THEORISTS OUT THERE,  here's a tidbit to feed your fancies: Armourgroup (remember, these are the guys who mention the ex-KGB guys on their staff in a press release) owns NTI, the company that does computer security for CNN, Ebay, and Yahoo (p. 84).

ANOTHER GOOD BIT FROM SINGER, (p. 23 & 25): Niccol Machiavelli looked down on the use of mercenaries:

I say, therefore, that the arms with which a prince defends his state are either his own, or they are mercenaries, auxiliaries, or mixed. Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.

The Four "Civilian Contractors" Appear to Have Been Mercenaries

In yesterday's post, Iraq: The Secret Policeman's Other Ball, I added a bit at the end about the story that was just breaking, the death and mutilation of four "civilian contractors." In it, I insinuated that these civilians were in fact mercenaries. I felt I was being a bit mean-spirited making that speculation and hoped that I was wrong; but from the way the US military brass talked about them, it seemed the obvious conclusion.

In the comments, James MacLean points me toward the emerging details that these "civilians" were employees of Blackwater USA. Recall from yesterday that Blackwater was the outfit that recruited Pinochet-era Chilean commandos for their contract work in Iraq. Knight Ridder also reports:

Blackwater Security was formed last year and is part of an 8-year-old security training company. Last August, the Army awarded Blackwater a $21.3 million no-bid contract for security guards and two helicopters for U.S. Iraq civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer, according to the inspector general's report. The company also provides security for food shipments in the Fallujah area.

Here is the primary image from the Blackwater web site.

(I could not have done a better satirical graphic if I tried.)

First of all, L. Paul Bremer should resign; not because these guys got killed, but rather because he's filling Iraq with mercenaries. The fact that he needs to do that indicates that his is an extremely weak government on the brink of chaos. This growth industry cannot continue to grow without armed struggle and this course will never lead to a stable political situation in Iraq. And our mercenaries are not the only ones there. As the administration argued last August, Iraq is a magnet for "bad boys." Our mercenaries can shoot it out with their mercenaries until no one is left standing or until the owners of the private military companies feel they have enough yachts.

Secondly, the US media is being willfully obtuse about what those who dragged the charred bodies behind their cars wish to communicate. Very simply, they're saying Get your hired guns out of here! and Mercenaries: Keep Out.

I hope Blackwater's insurance premiums go through the roof.

OH, BY THE WAY: Here's a paragraph from an article I may have linked to a few weeks ago, concerning the mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe:

The men arrested in Harare await their fate in the grim confines of the notorious Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. Among them, according to Zimbabwe's CID Law and Order Division, are: Jacob Hermanus Carlse and Lourens Jacobus Horn. Both are believed to be involved in a South African firm that provides security services and training in Iraq; Sergeant Victor Dracula, an Angolan veteran who served with South Africa's notorious 32 Battalion counter-insurgency unit. Dracula has been awarded the Honoris Crux, South Africa's highest military honour; and Niel Steyl, the aircraft's pilot, Hendrik Hamman, the co-pilot, and Ken Payne, the flight engineer. Their attorney, Deon van Dyk, insists the men knew nothing about the plot.

Two question occur to me:
� Which firm "that provides security services and training in Iraq" are these guys connected to, and to whom does it provide security? Bremer? Brown & Root? Exxon? This is a serious question aimed at finding out whose payroll the mercenaries might be on.
. . . and
� Is Dracula the guy's real name? Or is it a pseudonym? There are a few obvious question that logically follow that I think I'll leave well enough alone (like, so, what happened when they presented Sargent Dracula with his cross?). I couldn't make this stuff up.

DEEPER INTO BLACKWATER: Mother Jones has a good piece:

The four Americans horrifically killed on Wednesday by a mob in Fallujah, Iraq, worked for Blackwater USA, one of a growing number of for-profit companies hired by the U.S. military to to do work traditionally performed by soldiers. In this article in the May 2003 issue of Mother Jones, Barry Yeoman detailed the Pentagon's increasing -- and increasingly perilous -- reliance on private military companies.

(Via Buttermilk & Molasses).

There's also a good Village Voice piece.

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE: I have inspired Cheryl Morgan to write a lovely, dead pan piece appropriate for today: The Great Dill Pickle Conspiracy. Enjoy.

TRACKBACKS: UnFairWitness, The Gamer's Nook, AND Pen-Elayne.