July 19, 2007
Mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan
Have Gun, Will Travel
By CONN HALLINAN
Widespread use of mercenaries in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Latin America by the Bush Administration has drawn the attention of the United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, according to upsidedownworld.com.
"We have observed that in some cases the employees of private military and security companies enjoy an immunity which can easily become impunity," says Jose Luis Gomez del Pardo, chair of the UN Working Group, "implying that some states may contract these companies in order to avoid direct legal responsibilities."
The Working Group found that mercenaries were recruited from throughout Latin America and then flown to Ecuador to train at the huge U.S. base at Manta. Others were trained in Honduras at a former training camp used during the Reagan Administration's war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
According to the Working Group, mercenaries working for a subsidiary of an Illinois-based company, Your Solutions Inc., suffered "irregularities in contracts, harsh working conditions, wages partially paid or unpaid, ill-treatment and isolation and lack of basic necessities such as medical treatment and sanitation."
A major reason for using private security companies is that they are not subject to Congressional oversight.
Jeffrey Shipper, who worked at Manta for DynCorp, told the Los Angeles Times that a major reason for using Latin American mercenaries was that, "The State Department is very interested in saving money on security now. Because they're driving the prices down, we're seeking Third World people to fill the positions."
While most American and British mercenaries earn up to $10,000 a month, Latin Americans get $1,000. Last summer, dozens of former Colombian soldiers went on strike in Baghdad because Blackwater USA, a major security firm, promised them $4,000 a month, but paid them only $1,000.
According to the Financial Times, there are hundreds of Mercenaries from Colombia, Ecuador and Chile working in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Hilla. Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Study estimates that there are 50,000 mercenaries working in Iraq, making them the second largest armed contingent after the U.S.
The Americans are not the only ones recruiting mercenaries. Over 1,000 Fijians work in Iraq for the British company Global Risk Strategies. According to Jone Dakuvula, the director of Citizens Constitutional Forum, a non-governmental public education organization, many Fijians who have gone to Iraq have never been paid, but can't come home because their passports have been impounded.
Whether it is Brits or Yanks hiring the mercenaries makes little difference. Getting other people to die for you is cheap and politically safe. The body bags and the maimed return to places most Americans and British will never see or think about.
Conn Hallinan is an analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, a winner of a Project Censored Award, and did his PhD dissertation on the history of insurrectionary organizations in Ireland.