Going Out of Business: How Much Longer Will Iraq Be for Sale?
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"Interrogation for Profit." That was the title of the lead Op-Ed in last Thursday's New York Times. It's a phrase straight of Brave New Films' documentary Iraq for Sale, and an issue we've been calling attention to for the last few years. But while it's gratifying to see a growing dialogue about how the Bush administration has shirked all accountability regarding the detainment and interrogation of Iraqi prisoners by hiring mercenary private contractors, this fight is far from over.
It is true, as the Op-Ed pointed out, that Congress is finally pushing to prohibit private contractors and limit the use of security guards in combat areas. According to CQ, the House has already passed such a ban and the Senate is set to consider its own version, which has been tacked onto a $612.5 billion defense authorization bill. Not surprisingly, however, President Bush is already threatening to veto, using the age-old boilerplate that banning private interrogators "would unduly limit the United States' ability to obtain intelligence needed to protect Americans from attack."
Protect Americans from attack? Once again, Bush is painting himself as our concerned father, though by now he's become an abusive parent. By suggesting that only the father can safeguard his children (us) from the supposedly imminent threat of terrorism, Bush is preying on our collective vulnerabilities in a post-9/11 world. For the last seven years, this has been Bush's chief line of defense, and it's a diabolically clever one because it has enabled his administration to run this war with zero accountability.
For what would happen if Congress were successful in banning or even limiting the use of private contractors? It would effectively mark the beginning of an end to the Bush administration and its shadow army of over 180,000 private contractors working for the U.S. in Iraq. It would mean that when there is another incident like last September's shooting in Nisour Square--in which Blackwater guards were accused of brutally killing 17 Iraqi civilians without any provocation--the Bush administration wouldn't be able to pour hundreds of millions more into "protective services" contracts for Blackwater and other companies. Perhaps this legislation would even open up the floodgates, signaling the corporate press to examine the Bush administration's reliance on contractors and facilitating the prosecution of contractors charged with lethal conduct.
ZP Heller is the editorial director of Brave New Films. He has written for The American Prospect, AlterNet, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Huffington Post, covering everything from politics to pop culture.