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Whores of war

Manila Times (2006-06-28) Dan Mariano

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AT least three American private security companies have reportedly recruited about 300 Filipino “private security operators” or “independent contractors” (the current euphemisms for mercenaries) for deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The June 23 edition of this column, titled “Soldiers of [Mis]fortune,” mentioned one of them: Blackwater USA, which started out in 1997 as a small private security agency but has grown to become a multibillion-dollar enterprise—thanks to the American-led war on international terrorism. Published reports on the Filipino mercenaries have also mentioned Triple Canopy and Dynacorp, but it is Blackwater that has drawn the greatest attention.

According to online sour¬≠ces, Blackwater president Gary Jackson is a former US Navy SEAL, just like the company’s other executives. Black¬≠water USA was one of several private security firms employed following the US invasion of Afghanistan.

With the invasion of Iraq, a subsidiary, Blackwater Security Consulting, was one of about 25 private security firms contracted by the Pentagon to guard officials and installations, train the new Iraqi army and police and provide other support for occupation forces.

Blackwater prides itself in being an equal-opportunity employer that does not discriminate on the basis of race. Aside from retired American soldiers and police commandos, it recruits mercenaries from the South Pacific, Eastern Europe and lately the Philippines.

Blackwater has evidently found its Filipino recruits satisfactory. Jackson was recently quoted by the online service Virginian Pilot ( as saying his company has acquired about 25 acres, or about two hectares, in the former US naval base at Subic Bay and will have access to adjacent jungle for conducting survival training.

An application to lease the land has been submitted to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority by Satelles Solutions Inc., the local partner of Greystone Ltd., which in turn is described as the “international affiliate” of Blackwater. Satelle/Greystone’s business plan envisions training as many as 1,000 recruits monthly at the leased property in Subic prior to their deployment overseas, presumably in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many Filipino soldiers and policemen have jumped at the chance to earn “between $1,500 and $2,500” a month as private security operators/independent contractors (wink, wink). This despite reports that Filipinos’ rates are just a fraction of the pay of their American counterparts, who get as much as $20,000 for the same stint. Where colonels earn the equivalent of $500 a month, the salaries offered by Blackwater et al. are hard to resist.

Senate defense committee chairman Rodolfo Biazon appears determined to find out if Blackwater has violated any Philippine laws in its recruitment of Filipino defense operators. The government has a standing ban on the sending of OFWs to that war-torn country.

Moreover, Biazon is curious to find out why Blackwell has stepped up its recruitment of mercenaries from the Philippines and other countries outside the United States. An article written by Jeremy Scahill, which was printed in the May 8 issue of The Nation magazine, gives a clue.

In the report titled “Blood Is Thicker Than Blackwater,” Scahill recalls that one of the most infamous incidents of the war in Iraq occurred on March 31, 2004, when an ill-equipped and undermanned team of four private American security contractors got lost and ended up driving through the center of Fallujah, a hotbed of Sunni resistance to the US occupation.

“Shortly after entering the city, they get stuck in traffic, and their small convoy is ambushed,” Scahill wrote. “Several armed men approach the two vehicles and open fire from behind, repeatedly shooting the men at point-blank range. Within moments, their bodies are dragged from the vehicles and a crowd descends on them, tearing them to pieces. Eventually, their corpses are chopped and burned. The remains of two of the men are strung up on a bridge over the Euphrates River and left to dangle. The gruesome image is soon beamed across the globe.”

Although the incident did not involve US military servicemen, it nonetheless triggered outrage in America. US public reaction was so strong, the Bush administration felt compelled to resort to massive reprisal. “Within days of the ambush, US forces laid siege to Fallujah, beginning what would be one of the most brutal and sustained US operations of the occupation.”

Eventually the gruesome killing of the four mercenaries—including Stephen “Scott” Helvenston who had gained celebrity status via the reality TV program Combat Missions—in Fallujah raised serious questions about the evidently lucrative business of deploying mercenaries to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Blackwater, wrote Scahill, “was slapped with a lawsuit that, if successful, will send shock waves through the world of private security firms, a world that has expanded significantly since Bush took office.” Last year, the families of the men butchered in Fallujah sued Blackwell for the wrongful deaths of Helvenston, Mike Teague, Jerko Zovko and Wesley Batalona.

By the time Scahill’s article saw print, over 428 US mercenaries have been killed in Iraq, and US taxpayers are footing almost the entire compensation bill to their families. “This is a precedent-setting case,” Marc Miles, an attorney for the families, was quoted saying. “Just like with tobacco litigation or gun litigation, once they lose that first case, they’d be fearful there would be other lawsuits to follow.”

In one of Blackwell’s statements on the suit, company spokesman Chris Bertelli said, “Blackwater hopes that the honor and dignity of our fallen comrades are not diminished by the use of the legal process.”

Katy Helvenston, Scott’s mother, called it “total BS in my opinion.” She said the families decided to sue only after being stonewalled, misled and lied to by the company.

“Blackwater seems to understand money. That’s the only thing they understand,” Scahill quoted Mrs. Helvenston as saying. “They have no values, they have no morals. They’re whores. They’re the whores of war.”

In April 2005 six more Blackwater employees were killed in Iraq when the MI-8 helicopter they were in was shot down. Also killed were three Bulgarian crewmembers and two Fijian gunners.

Dreadful as the thought may be, will the next batch of slain mercenaries include Filipinos? Meanwhile, the multimillion-dollar class suit hangs like the proverbial Damoclean sword over Blackwater’s head.

Topic revision: r1 - 01 Jun 2007, RaymondLutz
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