Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mercenary Soldiers on Sale… Who’s In Charge of These Hired Killers?

Eric S. Margolis, Khaleej Times Online, March 22, 2010

A fascinating scandal has erupted in Washington over the use of mercenaries (‘private contractors’ in US terminology) that is exposing the dark underbelly of America’s foreign wars. It has been that the Pentagon and other US intelligence agencies secretly fielded mercenaries in Afghanistan, Pakistan (aka “Af-Pak”), and Iraq to assassinate tribal militants.

US law forbids murder or using mercenaries. But, as the Roman jurist Cicero said, “laws are silent in times of war.”

A former senior Pentagon official specialising in clandestine operations, Mike Furlong, set up a shell company, International Media Ventures (IMV), to supposedly provide the US military with “cultural information” about Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribes. Two obscure Pentagon outfits, the “Cultural Engineering Group” in Florida, and “Counter-Narco-terrorism Technology Programme” of Virginia funded Furlong with $24.6 million. Furlong hired a bunch of former Special Forces types and assorted thugs. These rent-a-Rambos’s real mission was to assassinate Pashtun leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and target tribal compounds for strikes by US Predator drones. Welcome to the modern version of the Mafia’s infamous contract killers, “Murder Inc.”

Thickening this plot, retired CIA types, including the flamboyant Dewey Clarridge, whom I well recall from the 1980’s Afghan war, were involved. So were other would-be bounty-hunters, eager to cash in one the Pentagon’s cash bonanza. It is uncertain if Furlong’s Murder Inc had time to go operational. But its exposure is causing uproar. In best US government tradition, the Pentagon denied backing Furlong and cut him adrift. He is now under criminal investigation. Shades of former CIA agent Edwin Wilson, whose frightful case I long followed. Wilson was set up as a deniable “independent” by CIA to supply arms and explosives to Libya and Angola in the 1980’s. When this intrigue blew wide open, Wilson was kidnapped by US agents and buried alive in federal prison for 27 years.

The Furlong scandal comes at a time of growing criticism of the US government’s use of over 275,000 mercenaries in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. These hired gunmen and logistics personnel operate without any accountability, legal structure, or oversight. Lack of command and control of such free-lancers infuriates traditional military men, who detest US Special Forces and these hired gunmen as ‘cowboys.’

It certainly is no way to win over Muslim hearts and minds.

Private mercenary firms like Xe (formerly Blackwater) and DynCorp have raked in fortunes running private armies for the US. They are major donors to the far right of the Republican Party. Deeply worried civil libertarians call these private armies potential Brownshirts, after the Nazi Party’s private army in the late 1920’s.

Amazingly, US Special Forces in Af-Pak have not until this month been under the control of supreme commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. They apparently reported to his rival, Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus in Tampa, Florida.

To the Pentagons’s anger, CIA runs its own killer paramilitary units and drone assassination operations, 90 per cent of whose victims are civilians, according to Pakistani media investigations. CIA’s paramilitaries report only to HQ in Langley —which does not talk to the Pentagon. Pakistan’s feeble government is not even informed in advance of Predator strikes and assassinations on its own territory. How many of the 15 other US intelligence agencies and NATO forces are running their own little illegal private armies? US mercenaries are responsible for a growing number of civilian deaths. It’s only a matter of time before all these cowboys begin shooting at one another. Reliable sources in Pakistan report that US-paid mercenaries are staging bombings there and in Afghanistan in an attempt to incite popular anger against Islamic or tribal militants, and draw Pakistan’s army deep into the fray.

Washington brands all Al Qaeda and Taleban “illegal combatants,” denying them due process of law and the Geneva Convention’s prisoner protections. Murdering or torturing such “terrorists,” says Washington, is lawful. So what about all the US mercenary Rambos running amok, who wear no uniform, kill at will, and have no legal oversight and, as we saw in Iraq, get away with murder?

Eric Margolis is a veteran US journalist who reported from the Middle East and Asia for nearly two decades

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joseph said...

Dr. Khan I appreciate your sentiments. Margolis' article was interesting and lent support to what most close readers of news know. I did go to the Khaleej Times Online link and read a little of that paper. Could you respond to this question please? Do you think that the Arab/Muslim world feels that the attacks on the World Trade Center and other targets were justified? If I had any feelings of sympathy for the Palestinians, and for the suffering of their own diaspora, I lost some of it when I saw Palestinians dancing in the streets, literally, after approximately 2000 people were incinerated in such a horrible way. Does anyone in the Arab/Muslim world ever express regret for that? After all, American forces and, unfortunately, unregulated mercenaries, are nominally in Afghanistan in reaction to coninuing threats and attacks by Al-Quaeda. You, like myself, are a pacifist. As an American living abroad, I feel like the world of Islam has targeted me and all my compatriots. Am I justified in feeling that way? Wouldn't you say that people who justify violence against one group because of violence against another are kind of like the pot calling the kettle black, and contributing to the cycle of violence? Anyway, good article but I wonder if the Islamic world ever takes responsibility for its own random acts of violence.

Dr Nasir Khan said...

Hi Joseph,

I understand your concerns quite well. While looking at things from your perspective I do sympathize with your views. But unfortunately, political issues relating to imperialist wars and their objectives for a political observer are always more complicated than what we see or feel momentarily. In my own humble way, I have also tried to shed some light on such matters that go beyond the official version of Realpolitik, wars of aggression and the lies to cover up the war crimes by the present hegemonic power and other powerful countries. This also means that to understand political facts or developments we have to read various versions and interpretations.

You ask me about my response to the attacks on WTC. In my view the overwhelming majority in the Arab/Muslim world was horrified when this terrible attack took place. But we should keep in mind that the so-called Arab/Muslim world consists of more than one-and-a-half-billion people as the Western world world consists of hundreds of million of people. Muslims (or others people) around the world have various views and opinions. There is no unity of views on political or social matters. We have to take into account all such views and not generalize on the basis of our likes or dislikes. You know a lot of experienced scholars, engineers and scientists have raised doubts about the American government's version of 9/11; a number of experts regard the 9/11 attacks as an inside job. I hope you will be able to get some good material on the issue. But as far as I am concerned I totally oppose war and violence and have always stood on the side of victims and oppressed people. The 9/11 was a criminal act and I condemn it no matter who the real perpetrators of this ghastly terrorist act were.

Regarding the reaction of some Palestinians which you have mentioned, it is essential to keep in view what the Palestinians have been subject to since 1948. The U.S. government has always stood on the side of Israel to crush the captive Palestinian people. In other words, the main cause of the destruction of these people is due to the policies of the U.S. government. It is a fact and I leave it to you to come to your own conclusion or explanation as to why some Palestinians reacted the way as they did.

The causes of violence in Muslim countries are numerous, and there is no simple answer to such issues. At present, one major factor is the role and policies of the U.S. government in the Middle East and South East Asia. Of course, the oppressive policies followed by anti-democratic Muslim rulers feed discontent and violence.