Hot on the heels of the alleged killings of over 20 Iraqi civilians by mercenaries employed by Blackwater USA, comes a new allegation, that Blackwater Hessians are involved in illicit arms sales. Specifically, the probe focuses on evidence that some mercenaries employed by Blackwater bought assault rifles and other weapons while they were home in America and sold them to willing buyers in Iraq-- which I'm sure it isn't hard to find some. The company itself has denied involvement and called claims that the company itself was involved in illegal arms sales 'baseless' but has pointedly not said the same about its employees, in light of a statement by State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard this week which seemed to confirm an ongoing investigation into arms smuggling by Blackwater employees.
Of course after a brief suspension following the shooting incident Blackwater was ordered back to work over the objections of the Iraqi government and is back to doing the same tasks it has done in the past-- tasks involving security and escorting of convoys, including military supply convoys and individuals that normally in past wars have been assigned to the military. And the truth is that our already overstrained military, overextended even farther by the 'surge' to a troop level that they cannot maintain permanently (hence the call for a troop reduction back to pre-surge levels by the Bush administration despite the failure of the Iraqi government to make any progress towards a political solution-- the stated objective of the 'surge.') Hence the reliance on mercenaries (most, but not all of the Blackwater employees are Americans, but there are also many foreign mercenaries, some former members of armies known to have committed large scale atrocities in the past.) Bill Berkowitz' expose in March of 2005 (a month before the infamous Fallujah incident involving the death of four Blackwater employees) focused on their recruiting efforts among the armies of the former apartheid regime in South Africa and the Pinochet regime in Chile-- both well schooled in human rights violations.
Well, is this latest news about gun-running surprising? When you hire mercenaries then you have to expect them to act like--- well, mercenaries.
When I first wrote abou Blackwater, back a couple of years ago, I wrote,
What has changed is that mercenaries today are no longer 'independent contractors' as they traditionally have been. Because they are now managed and formed into commando units by companies like Blackwater (as well as DynCorp and a few others), it is only necessary to contract with the company. Because rules of engagement for paramilitary forces are not well defined, our government has found them useful in missions that the traditional army might not be able to undertake for political reasons, for example, operations that carry a high risk of civilian casualties, military operations within the borders of the United States or against U.S. citizens, or operations in which it is foreseen that some of the traditional rules of engagement might not apply. If the mercenaries break some of the rules, there is either the benefit of deniability, or the ability to fire the 'security contractors' without admitting guilt.
And that may be the case here. Blackwater can in fact deny direct involvement in either the shooting incident or the arms smuggling, and fire the employees found to be directly responsible while setting the tone and officially following the same loose 'hands-off' policy that the Defense Department claimed to be following when the Abu Graib scandal broke.