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Cindy McCain Bankrolled Conference That Called for Ban on Mercenaries

The "McCain Conference on Ethics and Military Leadership" appears to be ahead of the senator when it comes to the U.S. use of mercenaries.
 
 
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A little-publicized U.S. Naval Academy conference named after Senator John McCain and bankrolled by his wealthy wife, Cindy, issued a call earlier this year for the U.S. government to ban the use of armed private security contractors like Blackwater in U.S. war zones, stating bluntly, "contractors should not be deployed as security guards, sentries, or even prison guards within combat areas."

"[T]he use of deadly force must be entrusted only to those whose training, character and accountability are most worthy of the nation's trust: the military," reads the executive summary of the U.S. Naval Academy’s 9th Annual McCain Conference on Ethics and Military Leadership, which was held in April at the Annapolis Naval Station. "The military profession carefully cultivates an ethic of 'selfless service,' and develops the virtues that can best withstand combat pressures and thus achieve the nation's objectives in an honorable way. By contrast, most corporate ethical standards and available regulatory schemes are ill-suited for this environment."

In 2001, Cindy McCain, who may be worth as much as $100 million, first endowed the McCain conference " in honor of her husband" with a $210,000 gift that was specifically intended to fund conferences that would "bring together key military officers and civilian academics responsible for ethics education and character developments."

According to the Fall 2009  newsletter, "Taking Stock," published by the U.S. Naval Academy's Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership -- the host of the McCain Conference -- among the speakers at the 2009 event was none other than Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater. Prince’s company is the most infamous of those engaged in the type of armed activity explicitly condemned by the conference's leadership.

The executive summary released by the McCain conference was recently highlighted in a report completed on September 29 by the Congressional Research Service on the use of private contractors. That report said that the U.S. is "relying heavily" on armed contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan and suggests their use could continue to rise. The report also states that misconduct and the killing of civilians by armed security contractors "may have undermined U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Despite the fact that the McCain conference, which publicly advocated against the use of armed contractors in combat areas bears Sen. McCain's name and was bankrolled by his wife, when it has come to making this a major issue on Capitol Hill, the Arizona Senator has been largely silent. In 2007, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Jan Schakowsky introduced the Stop Outsourcing Security Act, which sought to do precisely what the McCain conference called for two years later: to ban the use of mercenaries in U.S. war zones. McCain did not endorse or co-sponsor that legislation, which would certainly have benefited from his support ( neither did then-Senator Barack Obama). Responding to a reporter's question on the campaign trail in July 2008 about whether he believed that U.S. troops and not private guards should protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq, McCain said, "I'd like it, but we don't have enough. Yes, and I'd love to see pigs fly, but it ain’t gonna happen.”

Jeremy Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army .