Better Angels

"...all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." ---Abraham Lincoln, First Innaugural Address

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Sudan in Crisis? Troops Stretched Thin? Why Not Try Thugs 'R' Us?

The death and desecration of 4 private contractors in Fallujah last Spring was a horrifying thing. Emotions in the blogosphere and the mainstream media ran high in the immediate aftermath and the gruesome nature of the event overshadowed the discussion of our military's use of privateers in a war zone. As evidenced by the reactions to Markos Zuniga's now-infamous comments, the discussion quickly devolved into right/left sparring, leaving the central issue of private security personnel largely unexplored in the media. Which is unfortunate, because it's an issue that's been in the background of our military and intelligence operations for the past 50 years, and it's not going away any time soon.

Two of the biggest private defense contractors in use by the US are Dyncorp and Pacific Architects and Engineers, or PAE. Dyncorp was purchased in 2003 by Computer Sciences Corporation, a publicly traded company worth billions of dollars. In 2004, 41% of the company's revenue came from the US government, with 25% coming from the DOD alone. From CSC's June, 2004 company profile:

CSC's fourth quarter federal government revenue was $1.6 billion and comprised more than 40% of the total quarterly revenue. Revenue from CSC's U.S. Department of Defense activities surged to $988.8 million from last year's $581.4 million. U.S. civil agencies business grew 57.7% to $650.2 million, compared to last year's fourth quarter total of $412.4 million.

That's in the 4th quarter alone. In fact, during the quarter CSC announced several billion dollars in new government contracts including $406 million from the U.S. Army Aviation & Missile Command.

The feds obviously find Dyncorp's work satisfactory, which is troubling when you consider that during the US's involvement in the Balkans, Dyncorp employees in Bosnia participated in the sex trafficking of young women, some as young as 12. The company attempted to cover up the scope of the problem and employees who blew the whistle in 2000 and cooperated with an Army investigation were fired. Despite confessions and evidence gathered by the local police and the Army CID, no one was ever prosecuted. Neither the Bosnian police nor the Army had the jurisdiction to prosecute the men while they were in Bosnia, and once Dyncorp sent them home they were unable to be tried for crimes committed on foreign soil. Eventually, in 2002, one of the whistleblower received compensation from

Despite the passage of the Military extraterritorial jurisdiction Act of 2000, loopholes, inconsistencies and confusion exist to cloud the matter of jurisdiction of the US over private military contractors employeed overseas. In fact, as of September 2004, only 2 such cases had gone to trial in the US. For an overview of the problem, see this statement given to the House Armed Services Committee by Martina E. Vandenberg in September 2004.

Dyncorp is also the subject of a class action lawsuit brought by a group of Ecuadorian peasants who claim that the company's use of pesticides to kill cocoa plants as part of Plan Columbia destroyed legal crops across the border and poisoned villagers. This suit was filed in September, 2001, and as far as I can tell, is still languishing in the courts.

Dyncorp has had other mishaps in Central America, including suspicion of running drugs. More tragically, in 2001, Dyncorp employees and subcontractors (Eagle Aviation and Service Technology, of Iran-Contra fame) were involved in the downing of a small plane carrying an American missionary and her 7 month old baby in Peru. Frustrated by her inability to get answers from the government about the incident, Rep. Jan Sharkowsky of Illinois introduced the "Andean Region Contractor Accountability Act' which attempted to limit the activity of private intelligence and security forces in the region. The bill died in committee.

All this was known and documented before September 11th. But in 2002, when the DOD announced it had contracted with Virginia-based private defense contractor Dyncorp to provide security services in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was if the collective memory of the media had been wiped clean. There was a ripple of incredulity on the left-leaning blogs (scroll down to 11/25/02) and the international media, but the mainstream media in the US simply reported the contract and left it at that. Amazingly, the only news outlet to consistently link DynCorp with its past scandals was Insight on the News, the weekly news magazine from the Moonie-owned Washington Times.

It's happening again. The State Department recently announced a 5-year joint contract for Dyncorp and PAE worth over 20 million dollars. The mission? The Darfur region of Sudan, which is in the middle of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. That's right, we're turning privateers into peacekeepers and the mainstream media has failed to notice or comment. The NY Times printed a "Letter from Asia" on October 13, 2004, which did go in to some detail of the company's troubles in Afghanistan, but there has been no follow-up since the Darfur contract was announced.

So what does this mean? Why has is become perfectly acceptable to outsource not only our aggressive acts but our peacekeeping ones as well? Is war-ravaged Darfur, land of widows and orphans, really the best place to put soldier-of-fortune types who can operate with impunity and very little oversight? Most importantly, when will the American people stand up and demand that their tax dollars NOT be spent financing mercenaries, to the tune of billions of dollars per year, when our own soldiers don't have enough rations for breakfast or armor for their trucks?