Bill Moyers: The Rise of Private Armies -- Mercenaries, Murder and Corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan
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The following is a transcript from the Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, broadcast on June 5.
There was good news and bad news about Afghanistan this week. And it was the same news.
That's right. The Senate held confirmation hearings for Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, slated to be the next commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Here's how two different news organizations reported his testimony:
The Associated Press headline read, "War in Afghanistan is 'Winnable,'" but the "Washington Independent" reported that the general had, quote, "painted a bleak picture of the Afghanistan war" and that the United States "needed to show significant progress within '18 to 24 months' or risk the war spiraling out of control."
What we know for sure is that the fighting in Afghanistan is escalating. At least 21 thousand more American troops are going in and the number of private security contractors working for the military there jumped 29 percent in the last three months alone. Get this: there are now more private security contractors in Afghanistan than there are U.S. soldiers. And as of next year, according to new Pentagon documents, the war in Afghanistan will be costing more than the war in Iraq.
It's the job of experienced, knowledgeable investigative reporters to throw a monkey wrench into the spin machine and try to make some sense of all this. They're an endangered species, but one of the best in the business is Jeremy Scahill, who's been digging into Pentagon documents and thick congressional hearings for several years now. He's twice winner of the George Polk Award for special achievement in journalism, and author of this best selling book, BLACKWATER: THE RISE OF THE WORLD'S MOST POWERFUL MERCENARY ARMY. Jeremy now runs the new Web site, RebelReports. Jeremy Scahill, welcome back to the JOURNAL…
Jeremy Scahill: It's great to be with you Bill.
Bill Moyers: How do explain this spike in private contractors in both Iraq and Afghanistan?
Scahill: Well, I think what we're seeing, under President Barack Obama, is sort of old wine in a new bottle. Obama is sending one message to the world, but the reality on the ground, particularly when it comes to private military contractors, is that the status quo remains from the Bush era. Right now there are 250 thousand contractors fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's about 50 percent of the total US fighting force. Which is very similar to what it was under Bush. In Iraq, President Obama has 130 thousand contractors. And we just saw a 23 percent increase in the number of armed contractors in Iraq. In Afghanistan there's been a 29 percent increase in armed contractors. So the radical privatization of war continues unabated under Barack Obama.
Having said that, when Barack Obama was in the Senate he was one of the only people that was willing to take up this issue. And he put forward what became the leading legislation on the part of the Democrats to reform the contracting industry. And I give him credit for doing that. Because he saw this as an important issue before a lot of other political figures. And spoke up at a time when a lot of people were deafeningly silent on this issue. I've been critical of Obama's position on this because I think that he accepts what I think is a fundamental lie. That we should have a system where corporations are allowed to benefit off of warfare. And President Obama has carried on a policy where he has tried to implement greater accountability structures. We now know, in a much clearer way than we did under Bush, how many contractors we have on the battlefield. He's attempted to implement some form of rules governing contractors. And it has suggested that there should be greater accountability when they do commit crimes.