Last August, the Toronto Star reported that the US security firm Blackwater was training Canadian special forces troops for action in Afghanistan. The NDP’s Dawn Black raised the issue in the House of Commons, but after a succession of cabinet ministers simply refused to comment, the story died for lack of air.
Black had good reason for her concerns. In 2007 a convoy of Blackwater mercenaries went on a shooting spree in Baghdad, killing 17 civilians. In the ensuing investigation it was discovered that Blackwater employees were implicated in hundreds of civilian deaths in Iraq.
American reliance on private security firms became a giant public scandal, and the subject of a congressional committee hearing in which Blackwater CEO Erik Prince insisted that his employees had never targeted a civilian, and conceded only the “possibility” that bystanders may have been hit by “ricochets” while the mercenaries were defending themselves against attack.
Blackwater had first hit the news in 2003, when acting as a sub-contractor to Dick Cheney’s old firm, Halliburton, in Iraq. The ghastly public murder of four Blackwater employees by Iraqi civilians was used as part of the justification for the Fallujah massacre.
After the Baghdad shooting spree and subsequent revelations, the Iraqi government banned Blackwater from the country. The hanging multi-million-dollar contracts were picked up by another US firm, Dyncorp, a Halliburton subsidiary already linked to child and adult sex slavery while operating in the Balkans, and to a subsequent coverup that was unmasked in the British courts.
The history of private military contractors in the War on Terror is an ignoble one, filled with human rights abuses, cronyism, and outright crime. This week, the scandal deepened when two former Blackwater employees filed statements in federal court in Virginia, accusing Prince of murdering, or arranging the murder of, at least one whistle-blower.
The statements assert that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.” They go on to allege that he smuggled weapons into Iraq, and that in the same coverup in which “one or more” potential whistle-blowers was killed, Prince ordered documents shredded and video tape evidence destroyed.
According to these statements, “Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis … Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life … executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to ‘lay Hajiis out on cardboard’ … to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince’s employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms … such as ‘ragheads’ or ‘hajiis.’”
Though booted from Iraq, Blackwater continues to operate in Afghanistan, under the new name Xe Services. The US military is investigating an incident this May in which Xe employees got in a traffic accident and then shot up the other car, wounding two and killing one. Although they originally claimed to believe they were under attack, one man has since pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
If this is the company that’s training Canadian special forces troops for deployment to Afghanistan, the question arises, what are they learning? The military announced an $850,000 contract for “advanced counterinsurgency training.” What does Prince’s mercenary school have to teach Canada’s most elite military unit about advanced counterinsurgency? Are our crack troops undertrained in advanced racism? Do they need to brush up on running amok in a busy city?
According to an Angus Reid poll from March of this year, 52 per cent of Canadians oppose extending the Afghanistan mission to 2011, while 43 per cent approve. The second figure is artificially high because Canadians have been sold the invasion of Afghanistan as a humanitarian mission to free Afghans from Taliban tyranny.
Thousands of young Canadians have come home mad, maimed, or dead as a result of this belief. Here’s a terrible thought: What if it’s really just a mission to “lay Hajiis out on cardboard”?
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.