Private Militias Pose a Public Menace

There is nothing like learning from one’s enemies.

America is engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan in fighting private militias of one kind or another, with indifferent success. Mexico is in a constant battle with armed gangs or narco-militias, if you will. Colombia has been at war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia since 1964 and, if it is winning its fight, one is hard put to see the evidence of it.

On the basis of this track record, it would seem that the last thing in the world a society with its head screwed on tight would consider is establishing the beginnings of private militias within its own jurisdiction or territory. That, however, is what the United States appears to be doing.

The government doesn’t talk on this subject except to mislead, but Jeremy Scahill does in his recently published book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Mr. Scahill has testified before Congress, gives many speeches and has been oft interviewed on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now program. In addition to his book, there are transcripts of what he has to say on the program’s Web site.

Mr. Scahill tells us that there are “48,000 employees of private military companies in Iraq alone,” working for companies such as Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp. There are also private militias establishing themselves here in training facilities around the country, and meeting resistance from some of the locals.

According to Blackwater’s Web site, the company offers training in weaponry made by Heckler und Koch GmbH, which manufactures an infantry rifle said to rival anything the U.S. has.

Blackwater, Mr. Scahill says, also boasts an aviation division with at least 20 aircraft. Maybe it doesn’t signify anything, but it’s worth noting that Blackwater’s aviation division is run by J. Cofer Black, a former C.I.A. agent, who is believed to have soiled himself in the extraordinary-rendition business when working for Uncle Sam.

Blackwater and government-paid-for private militias are stocked with former American military officers. Obviously, their presence in these organizations has made getting Pentagon contracts simple, quick and easy. Whether these relationships are corrupt or not, and whether the government is getting what it is paying for, are matters left for another time.

The more urgent question is how trustworthy are private military organizations in the hands of ex-officers? There are good ex-officers and ex-officers we do not know enough about. We do know that in countless countries with recent histories of coups d’état, death squads and torture brigades, ex-professional army officers are almost always mixed up in these criminal activities. And now we have bases here in the United States where highly armed, non-governmental military formations are located. Does this knowledge make it easier for you to sleep at night?

The soundness of your sleep will depend in part on the record of behavior of these American mercenaries in the field. A rogue general with a government-paid-for private military force at his disposal might pose quite a problem for somebody.

Private Militias Pose a Public Menace