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You say mercenary I say contractor

Chris Cox

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Article in LA Times recently illustrates business as usual for the CIA and select retired military-connected individuals making big profits in war.

It's easy to see the points made in Jame's post on Iran Contra figures and how defense industry shares its bounty.

Met many "mercs" and heard the stories of weapons thefts, skiming profits on aircraft sales, drug resupply ops and (in case of Al Martin)outright securities fraud-all for the military ops and their hidden budgets.

Thinking of men like Gens Walker and Lemay and the involvement in anti Communist crusade. Apple doesn't fall far. True history is there for the picking.

Soldiers of Fortune-at what price?

By Jonathan Turley

The Los Angeles Times

Thursday 16 September 2004

David A. Passaro was a mercenary working for the United States. A former Special Forces soldier, he was on the job for the American government in Afghanistan on June 19, 2003, when he was told to get information from a detainee named Abdul Wali. When Wali insisted that he knew nothing, Passaro allegedly beat him to death with a heavy metal flashlight.

Now on trial for murder, Passaro is described in a recent criminal indictment as "a contractor working on behalf of the United States Central Intelligence Agency ... engaging in paramilitary activities."

"Contractor" is the term used by the Defense Department to avoid more pejorative terms like "mercenary" to describe Washington's growing shadow army.

While Passaro awaits trial in North Carolina, another self- described "contractor," Jonathan K. Idema, was convicted Wednesday in Afghanistan and sentenced to 10 years in a case involving charges of torture and other crimes. And in Iraq, 16 of 44 incidents of abuse at Abu Ghraib have been tied to private contractors.

In all, there are about 20,000 military contractors currently working in Iraq for the U.S. government, according to the Washington Post; that's the equivalent of three army divisions of contractors. Soldiers-for-hire like Passaro are often employed (for as much as $200,000 a year) by former generals, who retired to run clandestine operations for profit and who have, in many cases, become millionaires from the secret budgets of the CIA and Defense Department.

One such company alone, MPRI, has dozens of former generals and 10,000 former soldiers in the field, including many former members of the Special Forces. But privatization of the military comes at a price. In recent years, contractors have been linked to abuses ranging from ethnic cleansing operations in Croatia to the trafficking of sex slaves in Bosnia. They have been used to circumvent federal restrictions on the military. (For example, when Congress imposed a cap of 20,000 soldiers in Bosnia, the military simply hired 2,000 more private military contractors.)

In Iraq, they're dying just like regular soldiers. To date, roughly 120 contractors have been killed there (although some were not involved in paramilitary activities). They include Vincent Foster, a former Marine sniper who was engaged in "skirmishes" in Iraq, and Scott Helvenston, who died guarding a convoy.

The growing use of contractors and freelancers for paramilitary work has fueled an industry of mercenaries that was long in decline. Consider the strange case of Idema. On July 5, 2004, Afghan police entered the private prison run by him in Kabul. They reportedly found three men hanging from the ceiling while five others were found beaten and tied in a dark small room. Idema, also a former Special Forces member, claimed to have been working with the CIA and offered to supply proof that high-ranking U.S. officials supported his operation.

Idema's case highlights the increasingly fluid definitions of soldiers, contractors and freelancers. While officials denied any contact with Idema's operation, the Defense Department recently acknowledged it held an Afghan man in custody for two months after Idema delivered him to U.S. forces. Likewise, officials now admit that Idema sent messages and faxes to top Pentagon officials. Idema also reportedly arranged and participated in raids on homes with NATO forces in Kabul.

It is not clear whether Idema was actually employed by the U.S., but clearly he is part of a radically expanded market for soldiers of fortune, a market fueled by U.S. dollars. Unlike Passaro, Idema was conveniently left to Afghanistan. Not only was he denied the right to cross- examine witnesses, but the presiding judge, Abdul Baset Bakhtyari, dismissed his efforts to show his connections to "high-ranking military officials."

As for Passaro, the government secured a federal court order in Raleigh, N.C., barring the public disclosure of many of the facts of his case, including details of his work for the CIA.

There has never been a national debate on the use of mercenaries or on the rules governing their conduct. And, if some powerful forces in Washington have their way, there never will be. Washington's clandestine army reportedly receives billions and employs tens of thousands. It is a growing dependence that could come back to haunt us. Like many nations in history, we may find that it is far easier to hire mercenaries than to be rid of them.


Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University.


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Here was an article that appeared in the Guardian recently.

Wednesday September 15, 2004 5:01 PM

AP Photo KAB103


Associated Press Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Three Americans accused of torturing Afghans in a private jail were found guilty Wednesday in a Kabul court after a trial denounced by the defense as violating basic standards of fairness.

The three-judge panel sentenced accused ringleader Jonathan Idema, a former soldier with a past fraud conviction, and his right-hand man, Brent Bennett, to 10 years in jail. Edward Caraballo, who said he was filming a documentary on counterterrorism, received an eight-year term.

Four young Afghan accomplices received terms ranging from one to five years; one of them burst into tears with the verdict.

Idema claims to have had high-level Pentagon support in his group's efforts to hunt down terrorists, but the U.S. military says the men were freelancers operating outside the law and without its knowledge.

After a 7-hour session, presiding Judge Abdul Baset Bakhtyari announced Idema and Bennett were convicted on charges of entering the country illegally, illegally arresting Afghans, establishing a private jail and torturing prisoners. Caraballo worked ``hand-in-hand'' with them, he said.

Idema, who wore sunglasses and khaki fatigues bearing an American flag throughout the trial, denounced the decision as a throwback to the times of the hard-line Islamic Taliban movement.

``It's the same sick Taliban judges, the same sick sense of justice,'' Idema said as he was led, handcuffed, out of the courtroom. ``I knew that the American government wasn't going to help me.''

Idema spent three years in jail in the 1980s for bilking 60 companies out of more than $200,000. He and Bennett are from Fayetteville, N.C.; Caraballo is from New York.

The group was arrested July 5 after Afghan security forces raided a house in downtown Kabul and discovered eight Afghans who said they had been detained and tortured by the Americans. Several of them told the court they were beaten, burned with scalding water and deprived of food and sleep.

Idema says the prisoners were subjected to ``standard interrogation techniques'' but no abuse.

Wednesday's proceedings were the most orderly yet in a trial mired by chaotic procedures, dismal translation and constant outbursts from Idema.

A non-Muslim, Idema asked to swear on the Quran before testifying. He kissed a copy of Islam's holy book, prompting one of his former prisoners, an Afghan Supreme Court official with a long black beard, to jump to his feet and acclaim Idema as a convert.

Some in the courtroom audience cried ``God is great!'' three times in response, moving Idema and his former inmate to exchange smiles.

Later, the defendants and their lawyers appeared stunned by the verdict, which came even though the defense was given no chance to cross-examine witnesses.

Instead, the defense relied heavily on several videotapes shot by Caraballo. They showed Idema meeting a man identified as a U.S. Army captain coordinating counterterrorism operations in Kabul, and speaking by phone to officials Idema said were at the Defense Department and the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

The supposed captain said on tape that Idema's group was ``rolling up AQ (al-Qaida) like it's nobody's business.''

Other footage showed Idema being greeted at Kabul's airport by its director and the city police chief, and meeting with commanders of the Afghan government's militia.

The three acknowledged not having visas but said their entry was arranged by Afghanistan's ambassador to India, a senior member of the Northern Alliance who has known Idema for several years.

``It's ridiculous to claim they entered illegally under these circumstances,'' defense lawyer Robert Fogelnest said.

The judge said the videos only showed they had ``private'' contacts with Afghan leaders and failed to demonstrate official links to the American military.

Earlier, Fogelnest argued that the Afghan legal system was so badly devastated by more than two decades of war that it wasn't fit to carry out the trial.

The entire proceeding ``doesn't meet international standards and should be halted,'' he said. The judge cut him off, insisting he stick to the charges against his clients.

Idema claims to have unearthed a plot to bomb the main American military base north of Kabul and assassinate Afghan leaders. In an interview with The Associated Press, he also claimed to be hot on the trail of Osama bin Laden.

The U.S. military in Afghanistan has admitted receiving a prisoner from Idema and holding him for about two months. NATO forces cooperated briefly with the three, sending explosives experts to assist in three arrest raids in the Afghan capital. They found traces of explosives and suspect electronic components in one raid.

But Idema has since been denounced by the alliance and the American military as an impostor, and disowned by Afghan leaders and the Pentagon. The U.S. military had no comment on the convictions.

The lawyer for Idema and Caraballo said they would appeal. It was unclear whether Bennett, who represented himself, would follow suit.

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"Contractor" is the term used by the Defense Department to avoid more pejorative terms like "mercenary" to describe Washington's growing shadow army.

Whatever happened to the term, "mechanics"? Who do those clowns in the DOD think they're fooling, anyhow? Next thing you know they'll be claiming to be out-sourcing". :ph34r:

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Here was an article that appeared in the Guardian recently.

Wednesday September 15, 2004 5:01 PM

At a time most of us can't get through an airport with our shoes and socks on; it's hard to imagine there wasn't another system at work for these guys. These rogues have no problem getting around the world. Connections are easy, entry into secure areas assisted. How many of these stories will eek out of this war?

Nice to see Guardian article with more detail on this trial.

Other details we aren't likely to see from this case, as it's "over there."

Two quotes stuck in my mind that indicates this was US sanctioned operation(IMHO, of course)

``I knew that the American government wasn't going to help me.''

AND "but the U.S. military says the men were freelancers operating outside the law and without its knowledge. "

And that's the deal of covert operations.

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