Posts Tagged ‘Iraq War’

WikiLeaks Announces Release 7x the Size of the Iraq War

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Picture of Julian Assange during a talk at 26C3

Picture of Julian Assange during a talk at 26C3


Stan Schroeder

WikiLeaks has announced an important release on its Twitter account, claiming it’ll be seven times bigger than the Iraq war logs, which are widely considered to be the biggest military leak in history.

“Next release is 7x the size of the Iraq War Logs. intense pressure over it for months. Keep us strong” was the message posted to the Wikileaks Twitter account earlier today.

The message was followed by an even bolder statement two hours later: “The coming months will see a new world, where global history is redefined.”

WikiLeaks is an organization that publishes submissions of otherwise unavailable documents, keeping the sources anonymous. It has published nearly 500,000 secret U.S. documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Recently, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange found himself in the center of a rape scandal. The rape charges against him were initially dropped, but the case still looms over Assange’s head, with the Swedish court recently approving a motion to bring him into custody for questioning.

No details about the upcoming release have been revealed, but the fact that it was mentioned in the same context as the Iraq war logs points to another military-related leak. What do you think Wikileaks will announce? Please, share your opinions in the comments.

Copyright © 2010 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.


Attn. All Flag-Wavers. You Want War? Pay For It

November 1, 2010 1 comment

By Eric Margolis

October 31, 2010 “Information Clearing House” — NEW YORK – October 29, 2010 — I don’t ever recall seeing such an ugly, dim-witted, childish American election as this coming week’s mid-term vote.
A national frenzy has seized America. Fierce debate and name-calling has raged about job losses, the nation’s growing $12 trillion debt, mandatory health care, socialism – and even witchcraft. Sarah Palin, the patron saint of low IQ Americans, has hovered over this sordid contest like an evil Halloween wraith.

If we believe polls, the Democrats look like toast. President Barack Obama may be ready to join the ranks of the unemployed.

What did Democrats think would happen when they eagerly took over the monumental financial and military mess created by George W. Bush and the Republicans? No wonder Republicans are gleefully rubbing their hands. But now they may be next to get stuck with Bush’s Tar Baby.

Amidst all the low-brow invective, Tom Brokaw, the respected former national news host for NBC News, recently wrote a fine opinion column, “The Wars That America Forgot About.”

He quite rightly asked why the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been ignored during the election race. After nine years of combat, 5,000 US dead and 35,000 seriously wounded soldiers, and expenditure of over $1 trillion – silence.

These longest and second most expensive wars in US history have dropped off the radar. Not even the latest WikiLeaks shocker, which revealed the US condoning death squads, torture and mass human rights violations in Iraq, became a campaign issue.

No one raised the scandalous fact that US-run Afghanistan and Washington’s political satraps there produce and export 94% of the world’s heroin. Russian drug authorities just claimed that Afghan heroin kills 10,000 Russians annually.

The Iraq and Afghan wars are ignored, Brokaw rightly says, because Americans are totally focused on high unemployment and economic insecurity. America’s wars have become irrelevant.

The US professional military represents less than 1% of the population, mostly working-class people from small towns in America’s rural, poorly-educated heartland.

It’s not like Vietnam War days, when millions of Americans were drafted to serve in the war, creating huge public protests that eventually ended the war.

The US has adopted Imperial Britain’s model of small, all-volunteer armies fighting in remote colonial wars to supposedly bring the light of Christianity and justice to benighted natives.

However, it now costs $1 million per annum to keep each of the 120,000 US troops in Afghanistan. The US has also deployed over 40,000 armed mercenaries in that nation.

Americans have become psychologically detached from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, even as the specter of stalemate or even defeat in both conflicts looms.

Brokaw calls on Americans to re-engage and give their wars the public and politicians the attention they urgently need.

Waging stealth wars it undemocratic and unwise.

During World War II, America’s “Home Front” was engaged in the conflict by war taxes, rationing, buying war bonds, collecting clothing and metal, and accepting shortages of consumer products.

By contrast, President George W. Bush actually cut income taxes in wartime, the only time in US history this has happened.

In an act of profound financial deception, instead of funding the Afghan and Iraq Wars through higher taxes, the Bush White House and subservient Congress financed the wars by “Emergency Supplement Requests,” which were supposed to be only used short-term for natural disasters and the like.

Bush’s view appears to have been, “après moi, le deluge.” He raised the national debt to vertiginous levels, vastly expanded the size of government, increased military spending by 50%, on top of cutting taxes.

The first wave of the deluge came in 2007-2008, as a financial cataclysm hit America. More is on the way as the US stumbles from one financial crisis to another – the latest being bankrupt states and pension funds.

The real $1 trillion plus costs of the wars were quietly added to the $12 trillion national debt, America’s credit card. Funds to finance these huge war loans was borrowed from China and Japan, putting America ever deeper in thrall to the Asian powers, and undermining its finances.

The Obama administration and Democratic-controlled Congress continued Bush’s dishonest method of war finance, hiding costs from the public.

America’s wars should be fully funded through direct taxes. History shows great powers cannot long go on waging imperial wars on credit. Look at Spain, Holland, France, Britain, and the Soviet Union. Which empire do we think will be next?

A special war tax ought to be levied on all Americans to fully cover the mounting costs of Afghanistan and Iraq. We must pay for our wars and world hegemony.

It will be interesting to see how all the flag-waving Republican “patriots” will react when asked to pay for the wars they so passionately support from the safety of their sofas, and at no apparent cost.

Make Americans actually pay for Afghanistan and Iraq and these wars would be ended in short order.

But if Republicans likely retake Congress, it is most unlikely a war tax – or any major new taxes –will be implemented. Republicans have gone from being the party of balanced budgets and pay as you go to a northern version of Argentina’s wild spending Peronista Party.

Right-wing Republicans will press for more war, in more places – financed, of course, by the magic of credit. Few stop to think that this manic borrowing it wrecking America.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 29 October 2010 –


IRAQ: No work forces refugees into risky return

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment


Image by Todd Huffman : Refugees

27 Oct 2010 12:39:24 GMT
Source: IRIN
Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author’s alone.

MADRID, 27 October 2010 (IRIN) – It takes courage – or desperation – for an Iraqi refugee to return home, given the levels of violence in the country. But unable to support their families abroad, some are taking that decision.
The risks are substantial: According to a survey [ ] by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 61 percent of Iraqi asylum-seekers who have returned home have regretted it, citing the astonishing levels of insecurity.

Umm Hassan (not her real name) fled to Amman, Jordan with her children to escape the war, but unable to support her family, returned home last year. She was back in Amman nine months later . “The situation was unbearable in Baghdad. It was so dangerous, there were explosions, and we had no source of income there either. We stayed at various relatives’ houses while I had no way to provide for my children. In the end we decided to come back to Jordan again, though we knew things would be hard,” she told IRIN in a telephone interview.

UNHCR estimates there are 1.78 million Iraqi refugees – the second-largest refugee group in the world – and has registered 207,639. The overwhelming majority have sought refuge in neighbouring Syria and Jordan, [ ] with a significant proportion in Lebanon and Egypt.

The problem is “Iraqis do not have the right to work in host countries, and those who do are immersed in the informal economy,” said Asma Al-Haidari, a Jordan-based human rights activist. Of the four main countries of asylum, only Egypt has signed the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which guarantees the right to work for legally recognized refugees.

In Syria and Jordan, Iraqis are considered “guests”.Only documented refugees are entitled to a small financial package from UNHCR – most are not registered. With restrictions on the right to work and savings exhausted, Iraqis are pushed into poverty and trying to make ends meet in the informal economy.

“It is purely as a result of their desperation that some Iraqis are voluntarily returning to Iraq,” said Al-Haidari.”Some progress has been made with guaranteeing Iraqi refugees basic services such as access to primary education and health care in Syria and Jordan,” said Hana Al-Bayaty, coordinator of the Cairo-based Iraqi International Initiative on Refugees. Education

But there are no guarantees on access to free secondary and higher education in host countries, whose educational systems are already under strain. That can act as a further inducement for people to choose to return, particularly for middle class families that have traditionally valued education. “My elder daughter is a lawyer, and my son has just graduated from a professional academy whose fees have put us all in debt. Neither of them can work, and I cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Umm Hassan, a widow. “We have difficulties meeting our most basic needs. But we have nowhere to go.”UNHCR has counted 19,530 individuals and 4,200 families who have chosen to return to Iraq between January and September this year.
[ ] The Refugee Agency currently discourages returnees to Iraq, and in particular Baghdad, due to the insecurity, but the majority are heading to the city. [ ]Economic opportunities for returnees are also limited.

In the UNHCR survey, 87 percent said they were currently unable to cover their families’ needs, while 11 percent cited poor economic conditions and unemployment as reasons for not returning to their former homes and neighbourhoods.Most returnees to the Baghdad districts of Karkh and Resafa have not gone back to their original homes, but rather are staying with relatives, friends or in rented accommodation, mainly as a result of ongoing fears of persecution.

According to Al-Bayaty, a sizeable number of returnees are living in squats in old public buildings. “Many refugees’ homes are occupied, either by organized militias or individual families. Returning refugees therefore generally become internally displaced persons.”
Iraq already has 1.5 million displaced persons, including 500,000 in settlements or camp-like© IRIN. All rights reserved. More humanitarian news and analysis:

IRIN news


Atrocity Now: Wikileaks Release Puts Spotlight Back on Continuing War Crime in Iraq

October 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Official photograph of General David H. Petrae...

Official photograph of General David H. Petraeus, commander, U. S. Central Command

Article Source

October 25, 2010

By Chris Floyd

Many, many years ago, I noted in the Moscow Times that shortly after the 2003 invasion, the United States had begun hiring some of Saddam‘s old torturers as the invaders sought to quell the then-nascent “insurgency” — i.e., the opposition to foreign occupation that when carried out by white men, such as the French during World War II, goes by the more ringing name of “resistance.” Here’s part of that report, from August 29, 2003:

Here’s a headline you don’t see every day: “War Criminals Hire War Criminals to Hunt Down War Criminals.”

Perhaps that’s not the precise wording used by the Washington Post this week, but it is the absolute essence of its story about the Bush Regime’s new campaign to put Saddam’s murderous security forces on America’s payroll.

Yes, the sahibs in Bush’s Iraqi Raj are now doling out American tax dollars to hire the murderers of the infamous Mukhabarat and other agents of the Baathist Gestapo perhaps hundreds of them. The logic, if that’s the word, seems to be that these bloodstained “insiders” will lead their new imperial masters to other bloodstained “insiders” responsible for bombing the UN headquarters in Baghdad and killing another dozen American soldiers while Little George was playing with his putts during his month-long Texas siesta.

Naturally, the Iraqi people even the Bush-appointed leaders of the Potemkin “Governing Council” aren’t exactly overjoyed at seeing Saddam’s goons return, flush with American money and firepower. And they’re certainly not reassured by the fact that the Bushists have also re-opened Saddam’s most notorious prison, the dread Abu Ghraib, and are now, Mukhabarat-like, filling it with Iraqis men, women and children as young as 11 seized from their homes or plucked off the street to be held incommunicado, indefinitely, without due process, just like the old days. As The Times reports, weeping relatives who dare approach the gleaming American razor-wire in search of their “disappeared” loved ones are referred to a crude, hand-written sign pinned to a spike: “No visits are allowed, no information will be given and you must leave.” Perhaps an Iraqi Akhmatova will do justice to these scenes one day.

One of the first stories out of the gate from the gigantic new release of classified documents on the Iraq War by Wikileaks details the willing connivance and cooperation between the American invaders and their Iraqi collaborators in perpetrating heinous tortures against Iraqis. As we know, the Americans themselves were not exactly averse to atrocious maltreatment of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis they have rounded up, overwhelmingly without charges or evidence, over the long, long years of this godforsaken enterprise. (As we’ve often noted here before, at one point early in the Iraq War, the Red Cross estimated that 70-90 percent of the more than 20,000 Iraqis then being held by the Americans as “suspected terrorists” were not guilty of any crime whatsoever. And of course many thousands more have been “churned” through the system since then. Which is doubtless one of the main reasons why there is still an active “insurgency” in Iraq after so many years of continuous “counter-insurgency.” And yes, even after the “victorious” surge led by St. David Petraeus, and after the bogus “end of combat operations” declared by the Peace Laureate himself.)

But the Guardian story focuses on another key feature of the entire American Terror War — indeed, of American foreign policy for a great many bipartisan decades: using proxies to do your dirty work. The Wikileaks documents spell out case after case of torture by the American-installed Iraqi lackeys — often under the watchful eyes of American forces … and countenanced, officially and formally, by the invaders. The Guardian reports:

This is the impact of Frago 242. A frago is a “fragmentary order” which summarises a complex requirement. This one, issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, “only an initial report will be made ” No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ”.

…Hundreds of the leaked war logs reflect the fertile imagination of the torturer faced with the entirely helpless victim bound, gagged, blindfolded and isolated who is whipped by men in uniforms using wire cables, metal rods, rubber hoses, wooden stakes, TV antennae, plastic water pipes, engine fan belts or chains. At the torturer’s whim, the logs reveal, the victim can be hung by his wrists or by his ankles; knotted up in stress positions; sexually molested or raped; tormented with hot peppers, cigarettes, acid, pliers or boiling water and always with little fear of retribution since, far more often than not, if the Iraqi official is assaulting an Iraqi civilian, no further investigation will be required.

Most of the victims are young men, but there are also logs which record serious and sexual assaults on women; on young people, including a boy of 16 who was hung from the ceiling and beaten; the old and vulnerable, including a disabled man whose damaged leg was deliberately attacked. The logs identify perpetrators from every corner of the Iraqi security apparatus soldiers, police officers, prison guards, border enforcement patrols.

As the Guardian notes, the Americans were fully aware of what their charges were doing:

….There is no question of the coalition forces not knowing that their Iraqi comrades are doing this: the leaked war logs are the internal records of those forces. There is no question of the allegations all being false. Some clearly are, but most are supported by medical evidence and some involve incidents that were witnessed directly by coalition forces.

It should also be noted that many of the Iraqi “interrogation techniques” noted above have also featured systematically in the American gulag during the Bush-Obama years. In fact, we know that there is a trove of photographic evidence of rapes and tortures that have been seen by top American elected officials, including members of Congress, who talked openly of how sickening these documented atrocities were. Yet this evidence is still being withheld from the American people — at the express order of Barack Obama, and the connivance of his fellow militarists in Congress.

Speaking of the Peace Laureate, the Wikileaks document show that these countenanced and/or winked-at atrocities by the American-installed structure in Iraq are still going on today. They are not just relics of the bad old Bush years:

And it does continue. With no effective constraint, the logs show, the use of violence has remained embedded in the everyday practice of Iraqi security, with recurrent incidents up to last December. Most often, the abuse is a standard operating procedure in search of a confession, whether true or false. One of the leaked logs has a detainee being beaten with chains, cables and fists and then confessing to involvement in killing six people because “the torture was too much for him to handle.”

These are the direct fruits of the staggering act of evil that was — and is — the illegal, immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq. No, let’s go further than that. These acts are just the latest fruits in an astonishingly brutal and coldly deliberate 20-year effort to destroy the Iraqi people: an effort carried out through four presidential administrations — two Republicans, two Democrats — with the complicity of successive British governments. It is a crusade that has involved two massively destructive major military campaigns and more than a decade of draconian sanctions, all of which have led to the needless deaths of more than one and a half million innocent people.

The Bush-Clinton sanction regime — which also included a continual military component of bombing attacks — is part and parcel of what has happened in Iraq during the past hellish decade … and what is still happening there. As Joy Gordon notes in her landmark study of this cold-blooded berserkery, Invisible War, the sanctions regime:

caused hundreds of thousands of deaths; decimated the health of several million children; destroyed a whole economy; reduced a sophisticated country, in which much of the population lived as the middle class in a First World country, to the status of Fourth World countries — the poorest of the poor, such as Rwanda, Somalia, Haiti; and in a society notable for its scientists, engineers and doctors, established an economy dominated by beggars, criminals and black marketeers.

Gordon’s detailed, richly sourced and morally horrifying account of the sanctions era must be read to be believed. However bad you thought it was, the reality was much worse. I hope to be writing much more on this seminal work in the weeks to come. I strongly urge you to read it. But suffice to say for now that the manner in which Bush and Clinton officials used that dead hand of bureaucracy and cool, convoluted legalistic jargon to hide a crazed policy of murderous intent reminded me of nothing so much as the dealings of Nazi officials with the Jewish ghettos of Warsaw and Lodz before their final destruction.

We”ll have much more here on the Wikileaks release as people begin combing through the 400,000 documents. Wikileaks has done us all a great service by putting this vast war atrocity — which is still going on — back on the front pages, forcing the murderers and their accomplices and “continuers” in the halls of power to scurry around like rats caught in the light, twisting and squealing, trying to find some way to obscure the gobs of blood dripping from their hands and lips.

Author’s Bio: Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many others. He is the author of Empire Burlesque: High Crimes and Low Comedy in the Bush Imperium, and is co-founder and editor of the “Empire Burlesque” political blog.


Iraq war logs: US Apache guns down surrendering insurgents

October 24, 2010 Leave a comment

By Angus Stickler

On February 22 2007, a US helicopter engaged a group of insurgents involved in a mortar attack upon coalition forces, near Baghdad.

After firing a series of 30mm rounds, the crew of the helicopter – callsign “Crazyhorse” – radioed to their command, stating the insurgents “wanted to surrender”. The response was blunt: “CRAZYHORSE cleared to engage … Lawyer stated they cannot surrender to aircraft.”

The Apache crew killed the men.

February 22 2007
CRAZYHORSE reports AIF [Anti-Iraqi Forces] got into a dumptruck headed north, engaged and then they came out wanting to surrender…
CRAZYHORSE cleared to engage dumptruck. 1/227 Lawyer states they can not surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets.

It is one of the reports of most concern.

According to Claude Bruderlein, director of Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University, what is reported in the files about this incident would be a clear breach of international law.

“This idea that you cannot surrender to a helicopter is ridiculous, absolutely unacceptable,” he told the Bureau. “Surrendering is a fundamental principle of the law of armed conflict and you can surrender to aircraft. You cannot attack those that surrender.”

US Apache helicopters in Iraq - TheUSArmy/FlickrUS Apache helicopters in Iraq – The US Army/Flickr

Bruderlein, a former special adviser to the UN Secretary General, cites the allegations as being a clear breach of article three of the fourth Geneva Convention, drawn up in 1949 following the second World War. It states “that non combatants and members of the armed forces who have laid down their arms, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely” and prohibits “violence to life and person”.

According to the files, despite knowing the insurgents wanted to surrender, the crew not only opened fire with a Hellfire missile, but when it missed they actively chased them down to a shack where they had taken refuge. With the approval of their command unit, they opened fire again , killing both.

February 22 2007
CRAZYHORSE reports engaged and destroyed shack with 2x AIF …
CRAZYHORSE continued to observe for approx 20 minutes … CRAZYHORSE is off station to refuel and rearm.

According to Bruderlein, if the allegations are correct, both the crew of the helicopter and the officer who cleared them to engage, would be guilty of war crimes. The lawyer who offered the legal advice would, he believes, not be guilty.

Graphic: Hellfire strikes on Iraq

urrendering is a fundamental principle of the law of armed conflict and you can surrender to aircraft.”
Claude Bruderlein, Harvard University

“Those who use force have the responsibility of their use of force, and the chain of command is the one that’s responsible for the decision. It’s not the lawyer. However, to have a legal adviser expressing the view that the principle doesn’t apply to helicopters is ridiculous.”

Other surrender kills
The Bureau has found another file in the war logs that relates to leaked footage of an Apache helicopter opening fire on a man, who appears to be trying to surrender. The log makes no mention of the fact the man appears to be trying to give himself up:

31 July 2004
After positive identification from UAV “Big Gun 74″ gven authorisation to engage the vehicle. The vehicle engaged and destroyed … 1 X KIZ on side of road. Cleared site and reported: several RPGS, 1X AK-47, 1X 82MM mortar tube with several rounds, 1X tripod. MP and EOD on site.

The video clearly shows the man leaving his car, his hands behind his head.

No legal precedent
There is no legal precedent stating that an enemy combatant cannot surrender to aircraft. According to Bruderlein, once a combatant surrenders they are protected. He says any argument that a helicopter does not have the ability to capture is irrelevant.

“The protection of those who surrender is not linked to the capacity to capture. If you say “well I don’t have the capacity to capture, so you simply kill them all” – this is the end of the principle. As soon as they don’t represent a threat, they are protected.”

Combatants cease to be subject to attack when they have individually laid down their arms to surrender.
Geneva Conventions

A trawl through thousands of files in the war logs has found evidence that other helicopter gunships had the ability to, and accepted, offers of surrender.

In one incident, just over a month prior to the Crazyhorse episode, coalition forces were reported to have engaged a group of insurgents planting an IED:

January 10 2007
LH05 [LIGHTENING HORSE] engaged the white ­truck with 8 rockets … The 2x LNs [Local Nationals] got out ­of the truck and ­surrendered to LH 05. Alternate ­QRF [Quick Reaction Force], responded and ­detained the 2x LNs.

In this case, there were troops on the ground who could detain the surrendering insurgents. But in other cases, when no troops were present, the helicopter crews stayed in position and waited until ground forces arrived.

Another Apache helicopter caused controversy in spring 2010 when Wikileaks released video footage of a helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed a dozen civilians, including two Reuters journalists.

:: Article nr. 71055 sent on 23-oct-2010 01:25 ECT


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Iraq war logs: military privatisation run amok

October 24, 2010 Leave a comment

The Wikileaks logs provide ample evidence of private security contractors entirely unaccountable for lethal rogue actions

    Blackwater contractors, Iraq The Wikileaks Iraq war logs bring to light previously unknown incidents involving military contractors like Blackwater, acting with legal immunity, which resulted in deaths of civilians during the occupation of Iraq. Photograph: Gervasio Sanchez/APShortly after 10am on 14 May 2005, a convoy of private security guards from Blackwater riding down “Route Irish” – the Baghdad airport road – shot up a civilian Iraqi vehicle. While they were at it, the Blackwater men fired shots over the heads of a group of soldiers from the 69th Regiment of the US Army before they sped away heading west in their white armoured truck. When the dust cleared, the Iraqi driver was dead and his wife and daughter were injured.

    A terse, 57-word dispatch in the Iraq war logs published by Wikileaks is the first public evidence of the shooting, as recorded by the US military.

    The incident is one of several dozen “escalation of force” incidents involving private security companies in Iraq – which is military parlance for an unwarranted attack, almost all of which have never been previously reported. Blackwater, the company from Moyock, North Carolina, is responsible for about half of the attacks, closely followed by Erinys, a British private security company registered in the Virgin Islands, which seems to have an unusually high number of vehicle crashes.

    On my four visits to Iraq in the last seven years, I learned quickly to steer clear of the fast-moving vehicles belonging to these private security companies. The men – sporting identical reflective wrap-around sunglasses, bullet-proof jackets – would aim their high-powered assault rifles and shout “Imshi” (“Move”) at any vehicle that came within a 50m perimeter. Sometimes, they would throw plastic water bottles to shock pedestrians into staying away.

    Easily the best-known private security company is Blackwater (recently renamed Xe), which rocketed to fame three years ago when four company security guards, escorting a convoy of US state department vehicles en route to a meeting in western Baghdad, opened fire in Nisour Square in Baghdad killing 17 Iraqi civilians. Yet, a query of the Iraq war logs for “Blackwater” or “Nisour Square” turns up nothing, at first.

    In this failure to identify what is probably the most notorious carnage of Iraqi civilians, the strengths and weakness of the military reporting process (and, by association, Wikileaks) become startlingly clear. Had the media not reported this incident, there would be no way to identify the company or the location in which this massacre took place. Initially, I wondered: was it possible that the soldier who recorded the incident made a mistake or that the record was erased?

    Eventually, I tracked down the incident by trying a few other methods. It is easy to see why I missed the record: there is no mention of the company, or the location, and even the death toll is incorrectly recorded as nine, suggesting that the Pentagon casualty record is incomplete.

    Human rights investigators know this problem only too well. Media reports are often incomplete and government reports are sometimes deliberately vague. They are just a starting point from which painstaking research is needed to build up a true picture of what has happened.

    Quite possibly, there were many more incidents in which civilians were injured, or even killed, which were never reported. Some of the reports may have been altered before they were entered into the military system. But given the other records that I found, at the very least, Wikileaks has revealed that Blackwater and other private security companies are guilty of many more injuries and killings than the media have previously reported.

    Today, there as many as 40,000 armed private security contractors working in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to data collected by Commission on Wartime Contracting staff during the first quarter of 2010.

    Some of them are ill-paid ex-soldiers from countries like Sierra Leone who make just $250 a month; others are former US soldiers, who are paid $500 or more per day. These men are often doing the very same jobs that soldiers once did – like guard duty – but with a lot less accountability.

    Until quite recently, these men with guns were untouchable: they were protected from any kind of prosecution by Coalition Provisional Authority Order No 17, issued by Paul Bremer, the US diplomat charged with running Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

    For example, Andrew J Moonen, a Blackwater employee, who has been accused of killing a guard assigned to an Iraqi vice-president on 24 December 2006, was spirited out of the country and has never faced charges in Iraq. Nor have the five men accused of opening fire in Nisour Square: Donald Ball, Dustin Laurent Heard, Evan Shawn Liberty Nicholas Abram Slatten and Paul Alvin Slough. Lawsuits in the US have also failed.

    Blackwater and Erinys were not the only ones who acted with seeming impunity. Perhaps the most egregious incident occurred on 28 May 2005, when the US Marines came under fire from four white Ford pickup trucks and a grey Excursion sports utility vehicle “recklessly driving through Fallujah traveling west – and firing sporadically at vehicles”.

    The shooters worked for Zapata Engineering, one of five companies originally hired under a $200m contract to supervise the destruction and storage of US military ammunition worldwide. They were paid well for this work: each company manager earned an average of $275,000 a year, under their contract.

    Eventually, one of the Zapata vehicles ran over a spike strip in the road near a guard house under the control of the US Marines. The Marines placed 19 Zapata employees under arrest.

    At the time, Lawrence Peter, the director of the Private Security Company Association of Iraq, told my colleague David Phinney at CorpWatch:

    “I can say without a shadow of a doubt that there is no company named Zapata that is a licensed private security company under the terms of CPA Memorandum 17. I do not know under what legal authority those men thought they were operating, but it was not in keeping with the law of Iraq nor consistent with what professional, responsible and law-abiding private security companies are doing here.”

    But Iraqis cannot tell which of these companies are licensed and which are not. Technically, they could complain to the military or raise the matter with yet another private military company named Aegis Defence from Britain, which was in charge of monitoring the movements of fellow private security contractors, under a $293m contract issued in June 2004. Yet Aegis hardly inspired confidence – one of their employees caused an uproar when he uploaded a video of security contractors shooting at Iraqis, with an Elvis Presley soundtrack to match.

    Things got even worse when the Washington Post published an article about yet another security company named Triple Canopy, in which team leader Jacob C Washbourne was quoted as saying: “I want to kill somebody today.”

    Today, the Pentagon says that the random shootings are a thing of the past. In May 2008, an Armed Contractor Oversight Bureau (ACOB) was set up (pdf) by the US government in Iraq. Unfortunately, there is no website or any other public way to contact this important body.

    Perhaps the most worrying news about private military contractors came on 18 August 2010, when the New York Times revealed that the US government was planning to double the number of private security contractors in Iraq:

    “Defending five fortified compounds across the country, the security contractors would operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and even staff quick reaction forces to aid civilians in distress, the officials said.”

    It’s not just Iraqis who are worried. At a hearing in congress on 23 September 2010, Michael Thibault, co-chair of the commission on wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan and a former senior Pentagon auditor, said that he was troubled by the fact that the state department had very little experience to oversee this civilian surge in Iraq:

    “(I)t is not clear that it has the trained personnel to manage and oversee contract performance of a kind that has already shown the potential for creating tragic incidents and frayed relations with host countries.”

    Courtesy Wikileaks, we now know that many more deadly shootings have taken place by these unregulated private security contractors than we knew of before. Given this new knowledge, it is time that we demand an inquiry into the privatisation of the military. Right now, the prime facie evidence is that it has considerably increased the number of unnecessary violent incidents, while reducing military discipline and accountability and costing taxpayers a bundle.

    • Editor’s note: the incident detailed at the top of this article occurred in 2005, not 2004, as was originally stated; all other details are correct, and the article was amended at 12:00 on 24 October 2010.