Mercenaries seem to have license to kill |

Mercenaries seem to have license to kill

I have always thought mercenaries, such as the Hessians from our Revolutionary War, to be soldiers without honor who would do battle only if paid to do so. They would not kill for love of country, but only for love of money.

Today, the Bush administration apparently seeks to ban the word “mercenary” from our vocabulary. Instead, they prefer less-threatening words, such as “contractors” or “security guards,” to describe the thousands of privately employed soldiers in Iraq who are hired by corporations that are paid by U.S. taxpayers. One does not hear much about them. And their presence, in the tens of thousands, is never included in the number of American military forces reported fighting in Iraq. It is as if their existence would be an embarrassment if revealed to the American public.

I do not believe that armies owned and operated by private corporations are a desirable feature of any nation, particularly, America. They remind me too much of warlords in Iraq and Afghanistan and their privately owned armies.

But President Bush likes them. In his 2007 State of the Union address, he ominously spoke of corporate mercenaries in America. “(We will) design and establish a volunteer civilian corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them.”

The words, “allowing us to hire civilians” to “ease the burden on the Armed Forces,” clearly state the president’s intentions to foster the formation of private armies for hire, or mercenaries. The “critical skills” sought by the president described former Special Operations soldiers, Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and others who are specifically trained to perform what the intelligence communities call “black bag jobs.” And the words, “missions abroad,” allude to military missions that will not require public approval because no U.S. Military is involved.

The replacing of young Americans performing military duties out of a sense of patriotism with privately paid warriors motivated only by high salaries began in Afghanistan, where a mere 40 such private soldiers were hired by the U.S. to provide security to the president of Afghanistan. That undesirable practice escalated when we invaded Iraq. The then-presidential envoy to Iraq, Paul Bremer, hired mercenaries from Nepal, South African and British corporations, to replace American soldiers who had been guarding Bremer and his staff.

The number of private corporate armies since those early days has grown alarmingly. One of the largest of those American corporations, Blackwater, controls thousands of mercenaries and maintains a fleet of airplanes and helicopter gunships. The CEO of Blackwater, Erik Prince, also has an uncomfortably close political connection to our President having been a substantial contributor to his campaign.

Recently, while guarding an American convoy, Blackwater employees, allegedly without cause, fired upon and killed 17 Iraq civilians, including women and children. This latest, in a long list of such incidents involving Blackwater, is being investigated by the FBI, though the Iraq government has already condemned Blackwater for its actions. Our government has not yet commented on the matter. One of the issues involves the accountability of Blackwater if guilt is assigned to them. They assert they are immune from criminal prosecution in Iraq and that accountability under U.S. law is uncertain. And, unlike U.S. troops, they are not subject to court martial or any military justice. It is almost as if they had a license to kill.

There are clearly some adverse consequences involved in fighting our wars with hired mercenaries. It is certainly demoralizing to an American soldier or Marine to be fighting alongside a mercenary soldier not accountable to any military chain of command and who may receive in one single day, the amount of pay a U.S. soldier receives in a month.

And ongoing recruitment of U.S. military forces is made much more difficult. We now, desperately need and urge the re-enlistment of our existing Special Forces, Seals and Rangers. But, too often, those entreaties are rebuffed because Blackwater or another private corporation will offer them up to $350,000 a year, much of which is tax free but all of which is paid by the U.S. taxpayers.

Finally, the obvious political nature of Blackwater’s relation to the president stemming from the overly generous campaign contributions received from its CEO makes the situation even more murky to the casual observer.

Why, then, does the president urge the formation of private mercenary armies to replace U.S. troops? One such answer is his political need to keep the numbers of U.S. troops fighting in Iraq at the lowest figure possible. Mercenaries are not counted in troop strengths. But I believe the primary reason is that the president has been restrained, fortunately, in his desire to carry out an even more aggressive foreign policy, by declining enlistments. That being the case, the president must hire mercenaries since patriotism, for many, no longer provides a sufficient motivation to enlist.

When young Americans are reluctant to enlist in our military for patriotic reasons, that should be a strong signal to the president that the public no longer supports the war. Efforts to avoid that denunciation of his policy go contrary to the will of the people.

— Jerome Waldie is a former U.S. Congressman and a Placerville resident.

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