Soldiers of Misfortune 

Critical elements of the war in Iraq have been outsourced to private contractors. John Mancini's story shows the many perils of that approach.

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In addition, Peter Singer claims that that the practice of posting soldiers next to mercenaries who earn up to ten times their salaries will create a serious problem, as private armies poach the military's best special forces and beef up their "coalition of the billing." In essence, the Pentagon is now paying for the training of sophisticated and talented soldiers, but these same troops will quit at the first opportunity and join the private sector, where they can shoot their guns for whatever side will pay the most.

Sometimes, Chatterjee claims, the military's very capacity to perform is crippled by privatization, for the simple reason that private contractors don't have to follow orders. In April 2004, when the burned corpses of four Blackwater soldiers were hanged from a bridge in Fallujah, and eighty Halliburton trucks were attacked in insurgent operations, Halliburton simply stopped delivering supplies. "For two weeks, they were not delivering food in Iraq," Chatterjee said. "The Army had to reduce the number of meals in a day; they were switching to MREs even in the Republican Palace. You know, they say an army travels on its stomach? Well, Halliburton feeds that stomach. And when they stop, the soldier starts to starve."

Finally, private armies in Iraq can get away with things the government can't be seen to be doing, and they help obscure the true cost of the war from the American public. For example, the Department of Defense does not include reports of contractors killed or wounded in its official tally of casualties. And when contractors commit war crimes, no one really knows what legal authority, if any, is supposed to prosecute them.

Take Abu Ghraib. Singer wrote that although the Army found that CACI and Titan employees were involved in 36 percent of the incidents, "not one of these individuals has been indicted, prosecuted, or punished, even though the US Army has found the time to try the enlisted soldiers." The only authority that investigated these contractors, he added, was their employer: "CACI investigated CACI and, unsurprisingly, found that CACI had done no wrong."

Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney's vision of a leaner, more agile military supplemented by companies performing specialized support work has been a multifaceted disaster, and its most dramatic failings — a steady insurgency, sectarian chaos, the proliferation of torture — are all too familiar by now. Mancini's story illustrates a lesser-known but equally important lesson: Turning over functions to well-connected corporations, combined with the absence of basic government oversight, has produced little but corruption and crony capitalism. Ten of thousands are dying or maimed, but someone is getting rich. Even the practice of doling out the private contracts has been privatized. That's exactly what John Mancini found himself doing after he left Halliburton and took his next job with CACI.

Even as Mancini was anonymously leaking to Congress and the press, he was hankering to get back to the war. In March 2004, he signed up to handle contract administration for CACI, the company that was about to be implicated in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Although Mancini never knew Steven Stephanowicz, the CACI employee listed in an Army report as "responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib," he was required to go through a "soldier readiness program" prior to shipping out. In April, he arrived in Fort Bliss in Texas, where he participated in the training with CACI employees who were assigned interrogation detail in Iraq. "So I'm going through there, and you know the military, hurry up and wait," Mancini said. "And they give you some off time, you go to the bowling alley and the PX. And you talk with them, and those people are kinda scary. Some of the stories they used to tell about their experiences; these were special-ops people, and you know, they didn't admit they were CIA, but I definitely got the impression."

By the summer of 2004, Mancini found himself in Baghdad's Green Zone, pushing papers in the presidential palace and sleeping in a tent with fifty "of my closest friends." The floor was bare sand; Mancini recalls showering in tents and being covered in grit by the time he put on his clothes. But the food was decent, and there was plenty of beer — sometimes to his dismay, as he watched mercenaries assigned to guard him get hammered: "The majority of people are responsible, okay? But you had some of these British and South Africans, some of these private security details, and you'd see them on Thursday night, which was your weekend. They'd be drunk by the pool, throwing each other in the pool with weapons. I said, 'Make sure you change those fucking bullets before you protect me.' ... The Brits were friggin' crazy, I tell ya. I wouldn't trust my life to a Brit."

Despite the parties and CACI's role at Abu Ghraib, Mancini claims that he often felt more comfortable around the mercenaries than American soldiers. "The army, they were children," he said. "You know, you can understand why they outsource security. ... There's a lot of bad press about these private security people, but they save lives. The army, they'll leave you out to die."


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