Thursday, 20 December 2007

Iraq: Outsourcing the war

Corporate government leads to corporate war and leads to corporate abuse.

This week a U.S. human rights group filed its second lawsuit against security contractor Blackwater on charges of war crimes, assault and wrongful death. The company, at the center of the infamous Nisoor Square shooting in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, is further accused of killing an Iraqi salesman on September 9th 2007.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Congressional committee was hearing testimony from a female former employee of U.S. contractor Halliburton. The young woman told the hearing she was drugged and then gang-raped by American workers in her accommodation in the high-security Green Zone in Baghdad in July 2005.

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Two-and-a-half years later, the Justice Department has failed to complete its investigation, and a department official who was scheduled to give evidence at the hearing failed to show up.

In an interview with PressTV, Kevin Zeese, the director of Democracy Rising, hit out at the corporatization of war, Iraq’s lack of true sovereignty, and accused the Democrats of lip-service in their efforts to end the Iraqi conflict.

PressTV: Just how out of control is the contractor situation getting in Iraq?
Zeese: I don’t think we know the full answer to that. We’ve seen some examples of misbehavior by corporations like KBR [Kellogg Brown and Root, a Halliburton subsidiary] and some of the mercenary corporations that are doing security in Iraq. I don’t find it surprising that U.S. human rights groups are filing suit about this. Many Americans, I think a majority of Americans oppose this war. I think about 70 percent want to see us get out of Iraq and don’t want to see us get into a military confrontation with Iran. The American government is out of step with the American people, and they are fighting to take their government back.

PressTV: Blackwater has been involved in at least 56 shooting incidents this year alone and is the subject of lawsuits and multiple complaints. Given this background, surely you’d imagine the State Department would have ordered at least a temporary withdrawal of their operating license?
Zeese: In fact the Iraqi government has asked for that to happen and it shows that Iraq is not in control of its own government.
Blackwater is extremely well connected, especially to the Republican Party leadership and into the Bush administration. It will be interesting to see how they do when the Democrats take power after the next election, which seems more and more likely.
But even with the Democrats in control of Congress we’re not seeing Blackwater pulled up for a series of hearings. We’re not seeing documents that have been required, subpoenaed files; we’re not seeing efforts by the members of Congress who are Democrats challenge Blackwater, and no one is talking about cutting the funding for that kind of program.
The problem in the United States is that we have a very much corporate controlled government, and we now have more corporate security firms and personnel in Iraq than we have U.S. troops.

PressTV: Who is protecting Blackwater?
Zeese: I think you see the protection in the White House, for sure. You see it in the State Department and the Department of Defense. Congress is only doing a kind of touch-up job in order to satisfy their anti-war base of voters, but they are not really going all the way to push this thing to the edge.

PressTV: So protection of Blackwater goes all the way to the top?
Zeese: I think they are part of the team. As I said, we have a corporate government, and a corporate security firm is consistent with that style. We have privatized many traditionally government functions, including military functions, so we see private firms being paid five and ten times the amount of soldiers who used to do these jobs, and that creates all kind of legal complexities. Who do the contractors answer to? The Military Code of Justice? Do they answer to Iraqi law, do they answer to U.S. civilian law? Nobody seems to know and as you know we’ve seen no charges brought against these abuses.

PressTV: Contractors and troops in Iraq are pretty much given immunity from prosecution under the Paul Bremer era Article 17, so how much chance do the victims of abuse really have of seeing justice?
Zeese: Well, they have no chance if they don’t try to push for justice. So I think justice is something that is not granted easily, it is something that has to be demanded. So I appreciate this woman from Halliburton, Kellogg Brown and Root coming forward and publicly fighting for her rights because that is the only way justice will occur.
I do believe that the American public abhors what is going on in Iraq, abhors the role of firms like Blackwater and KBR and their behavior to U.S. and Iraqi citizens. I think the more that comes out the more likely we will see justice. But it will be an uphill battle and not an easy one.

PressTV: We’ve just seen the United Nations Security Council endorse the U.S. mandate in Iraq for another year, so does that mean another year of Article 17 and abuse?
Zeese: That U.N. decision is one that violates the Iraqi constitution. Last January the Iraqi Prime Minister went to the U.N. without consulting the legislature, the parliament. The parliament complained about that. In fact, a majority of the members of parliament signed a letter to the Prime Minister demanding that he bring further continuation of the U.S. role in Iraq to the parliament before he went to the United Nations, and he didn’t do that, despite the fact that the Iraqi constitution requires parliamentary approval.
So the U.N. in approving this continuation is ignoring Iraqi law and I think acting illegally. It’s a clear indication that this is an occupation and not a democracy that we are developing in Iraq.

PressTV: Despite that, George Bush and Prime Minister Maliki have reached an understanding on the long term presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, perhaps similar to the deals with places like South Korea or Japan. It’s quite obvious the Iraqi people don’t want American troops or mercenaries there, so what’s the future for the average American soldier posted to Iraq?
Zeese: I don’t see a good future for this. I think we are in the process of creating more enemies than we are capturing or killing, and I think we are creating all sorts of anger throughout the Middle East. Recent decisions that we are talking about to combine U.S. and Israeli missile defense efforts will further intertwine the United States into the internationally illegal activity of Israel, and that will further create anger.
The Iraqi people don’t want it, the U.S. people don’t want it, and I think the Democratic Party in allowing this negotiation to go forward without saying stop is ceding ground to Bush because they don’t want to stop this war either. They want to keep this war and they want Bush to do the dirty work before they come to power.

Article based on interview conducted by author with Kevin Zeese, first broadcast on PressTV on Thursday, December 20th, 2007

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