(moved from Comments and mildly edited by Mick–I exchanged an already published quote for another from K’s second link)
The Abu Ghraib story has shed an unwelcome spotlight on private contractors like CACI, Titan and Halliburton and their central role in waging America’s new wars. Many of these contractors are soldiers by another name, more commonly called mercenaries. They are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, nor to the Geneva Conventions. Contractors have been identified as “giving orders” to the MPs who abused Iraqis; none have lost their jobs, and CACI is still advertising interrogator jobs on its Web site. It is estimated that 10,000-15,000 are on the ground in Iraq, but their operations are shrouded in secrecy.
Many of these contractors have been called “retired military,” with the innocent-sounding explanation that retired soldiers have the most appropriate background. Now reports are emerging that all is not as it seems. Twenty-six-year old soldiers, in the military for three years, are being recruited while on active duty. If they accept, they are temporarily “retired.” When done with their contractor assignments, they return to their units.
Why would the U.S. military engage in this shell-game, moving soldiers from active duty to contractor status and back again? While working for the contractors, they are essentially indistinguishable from the military, with three exceptions: No uniform. No chain of command. And no accountability to any legal authority.
In a related story, it was revealed — but not widely circulated — that the U.S. is setting up a secret police in Iraq to keep control over the country after the formal handover1. This police force will be staffed by contractors paid for by U.S. taxpayers. From the Washington Post:
The events of the last few days illustrate those differences well. When reports of abuses at Abu Ghraib surfaced, it was clear that the 800th Military Police Brigade (which includes the 372nd Military Police Company, home to many of the accused) was in charge of the prison; prisoner interrogations were run by the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. But Taguba’s report also mentions four civilian contractors, all of whom were assigned to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. Two of those civilians, Steven Stephanowicz and John Israel, were “either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses” at Abu Ghraib, the report says. A third contractor, Adel Nakhla, is named as a translator — and a suspect. A fourth, Torin Nelson, was said to be a witness. Both Nakhla and Nelson are listed as employees of Titan Corp., a security contractor based in San Diego.The report identified Stephanowicz as an interrogator working for CACI; Israel, an interpreter, was also said to be working for CACI, although the company has denied that. Some news reports have identified Israel as an employee of Titan, which in turn has said he works for one of its subcontractors.
So, we are not even sure for whom these contractors work or worked. Nor do we know how many other contract employees were — and may still be — working at the prison.
Is this how we’re spreading the light of democracy around the world?
Note: 1. This would likely be our old friend, Ahmad Chalabi. Viceroy Paul Bremer turned over all of Saddam’s Secret Police files to Chalabi when he replaced Gen Garner. Ahmad, so the (perfectly believable) rumors say, has been using them to blackmail his way to power ever since.–M