by Jeremy Scahill
August 15, 2007
If you think the U.S. has only 160,000 troops in
Iraq, think again.
With almost no congressional oversight and even less public awareness, the
Bush administration has more than doubled the size of the U.S. occupation
through the use of private war companies.
There are now almost 200,000 private “contractors” deployed in Iraq by
Washington. This means that U.S. military forces in Iraq are now outsized by
a coalition of billing corporations whose actions go largely unmonitored and
whose crimes are virtually unpunished.
In essence, the Bush administration has created a shadow army that can be
used to wage wars unpopular with the American public but extremely
profitable for a few unaccountable private companies.
Since the launch of the “global war on terror,” the administration has
systematically funneled billions of dollars in public money to corporations
Blackwater USA, DynCorp, Triple Canopy, Erinys and ArmorGroup.
They have in turn used their lucrative government
pay-outs to build up the infrastructure and reach of private armies so
powerful that they rival or outgun some nation’s militaries.
“I think it’s extraordinarily dangerous when a nation begins to outsource
its monopoly on the use of force and the use of violence in support of its
foreign policy or national security objectives,” says veteran U.S. Diplomat
Joe Wilson, who served as the last U.S. ambassador to Iraq before the 1991
The billions of dollars being doled out to these companies, Wilson argues,
“makes of them a very powerful interest group within the American body
politic and an interest group that is in fact armed. And the question will
arise at some time: to whom do they owe their loyalty?”
Precise data on the extent of U.S. spending on mercenary services is nearly
impossible to obtain - by both journalists and elected officials - but some in
Congress estimate that up to 40 cents of every tax dollar spent on the war
goes to corporate war contractors. At present, the United States spends
about $2 billion a week on its Iraq operations.
While much has been made of the Bush administration’s “failure” to build
international consensus for the invasion of Iraq, perhaps that was never the
intention. When U.S. tanks rolled into Iraq in March 2003, they brought with
them the largest army of “private contractors” ever deployed in a war.
The White House substituted international
diplomacy with lucrative war contracts and a coalition of willing nations
who provided token forces with a coalition of billing corporations that
supplied the brigades of contractors.
‘THERE’S NO DEMOCRATIC
During the 1991 Gulf War, the ratio of troops to private contractors was
about 60 to 1. Today, it is the contractors who outnumber U.S. forces in
As of July 2007, there were more than 630 war contracting companies
working in Iraq for the United States. Composed of some 180,000 individual
personnel drawn from more than 100 countries, the army of contractors
surpasses the official U.S. military presence of 160,000 troops.
In all, the United States may have as many as 400,000 personnel occupying
Iraq, not including allied nations’ militaries. The statistics on
contractors do not account for all armed contractors. Last year, a U.S.
government report estimated there were 48,000 people working for more than
170 private military companies in Iraq.
“It masks the true level of American
involvement,” says Ambassador Wilson.
How much money is being spent just on mercenaries remains largely
classified. Congressional sources estimate the United States has spent at
least $6 billion in Iraq, while Britain has spent some $400 million. At the
same time, companies chosen by the White House for rebuilding projects in
Iraq have spent huge sums in reconstruction funds — possibly billions on
more mercenaries to guard their personnel and projects.
The single largest U.S. contract for private security in Iraq was a $293
million payment to the British firm Aegis Defence Services, headed by
retired British Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, who has been dogged by accusations that
he is a mercenary because of his private involvement in African conflicts.
The Texas-based DynCorp International has been another big winner, with more
than $1 billion in contracts to provide personnel to train Iraqi police
forces, while Blackwater USA has won $750 million in State Department
contracts alone for “diplomatic security.”
At present, an American or a British Special Forces veteran working for a
private security company in Iraq can make $650 a day. At times the rate has
reached $1,000 a day; the pay dwarfs many times over that of active duty
troops operating in the war zone wearing a U.S. or U.K. flag on their
shoulder instead of a corporate logo.
“We got [tens of thousands of] contractors over there, some of them making
more than the Secretary of Defense,” House Defense Appropriations
Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-Penn.) recently remarked. “How in the
hell do you justify that?”
In part, these contractors do mundane jobs that
traditionally have been performed by soldiers. Some require no military
training, but involve deadly occupations, such as driving trucks through
Others are more innocuous, like cooking food or doing laundry on a base, but
still court grave risk because of regular mortar and rocket attacks.
These services are provided through companies like KBR and Fluor and through
their vast labyrinth of subcontractors. But many other private personnel are
also engaged in armed combat and “security” operations. They interrogate
prisoners, gather intelligence, operate rendition flights, protect senior
occupation officials and, in at least one case, have commanded U.S. and
international troops in battle.
In a revealing admission, Gen. David Petraeus, who is overseeing Bush’s
troop “surge,” said earlier this year that he has, at times, been guarded in
Iraq by “contract security.”
At least three U.S. commanding generals, not
including Petraeus, are currently being guarded in Iraq by hired guns.
have half of your army be contractors, I don’t know that there’s a precedent
for that,” says Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a member of the House
Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been investigating war
“Maybe the precedent was the British and the Hessians in the American
Revolution. Maybe that’s the last time and needless to say, they lost. But
I’m thinking that there’s no democratic control and there’s no intention to
have democratic control here.”
The implications are devastating.
Joseph Wilson says,
“In the absence of
international consensus, the current Bush administration relied on a
coalition of what I call the co-opted, the corrupted and the coerced: those
who benefited financially from their involvement, those who benefited
politically from their involvement and those few who determined that their
relationship with the United States was more important than their
relationship with anybody else. And that’s a real problem because there is
no underlying international legitimacy that sustains us throughout this
action that we’ve taken.”
Moreover, this revolution means the United States no longer needs to rely on
its own citizens to fight its wars, nor does it need to implement a draft,
which would have made the Iraq war politically untenable.
‘AN ARM OF THE BUSH
During his confirmation hearings in the Senate this past January, Petraeus
praised the role of private forces, claiming they compensate for an
Petraeus told the senators that combined with Bush’s
official troop surge, the,
“tens of thousands of contract security forces
give me the reason to believe that we can accomplish the mission.”
Taken together with Petraeus’s recent assertion that the surge would run
into mid-2009, this means a widening role for mercenaries and other private
forces in Iraq is clearly on the table for the foreseeable future.
“The increasing use of contractors, private forces or as some would say
‘mercenaries’ makes wars easier to begin and to fight — it just takes money
and not the citizenry,” says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for
Constitutional Rights, whose organization has sued private contractors for
alleged human rights violations in Iraq.
“To the extent a population is called upon to go to war, there is
resistance, a necessary resistance to prevent wars of self-aggrandizement,
foolish wars and in the case of the United States, hegemonic imperialist
wars. Private forces are almost a necessity for a United States bent on
retaining its declining empire. Think about Rome and its increasing need for
Privatized forces are also politically expedient for many governments.
uncounted, their actions largely unmonitored and their crimes unpunished.
Indeed, four years into the occupation, there is no effective system of
oversight or accountability governing contractors and their operations, nor
is there any effective law — military or civilian being applied to their
They have not been subjected to military courts martial (despite
a recent congressional attempt to place them under the Uniform Code of
Military Justice), nor have they been prosecuted in U.S. civilian courts.
And no matter what their acts in Iraq, they cannot be prosecuted in Iraqi
courts because in 2004 the U.S. occupying authority granted them complete
“These private contractors are really an arm of the administration and its
policies,” argues Kucinich, who has called for a withdrawal of all U.S.
contractors from Iraq. “They charge whatever they want with impunity.
There’s no accountability as to how many people they have, as to what their
That raises the crucial question: what exactly are they doing in Iraq in the
name of the U.S. and U.K. governments?
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a
leading member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, which is
responsible for reviewing sensitive national security issues, explained the
difficulty of monitoring private military companies on the U.S. payroll:
I want to see a contract, I have to go up to a secret room and look at it,
can’t take any notes, can’t take any notes out with me, you know —
essentially, I don’t have access to those contracts and even if I did, I
couldn’t tell anybody about it.”
‘A MARKETPLACE FOR
On the Internet, numerous videos have spread virally, showing what appear to
be foreign mercenaries using Iraqis as target practice, much to the
embarrassment of the firms involved.
Despite these incidents and the tens of
thousands of contractors passing through Iraq, only two individuals have
been ever indicted for crimes there. One was charged with stabbing a fellow
contractor, while the other pled guilty to possessing child-pornography
images on his computer at Abu Ghraib prison.
Dozens of American soldiers have been court-martialed - 64 on murder-related
charges alone - but not a single armed contractor has been prosecuted for a
crime against an Iraqi. In some cases, where contractors were alleged to
have been involved in crimes or deadly incidents, their companies whisked
them out of Iraq to safety.
U.S. contractors in Iraq reportedly have their own motto:
“What happens here
today, stays here today.”
International diplomats say Iraq has demonstrated
a new U.S. model for waging war; one which poses a creeping threat to global
“To outsource security-related, military related issues to non-government,
non-military forces is a source of great concern and it caught many
governments unprepared,” says Hans von Sponeck, a 32-year veteran U.N.
diplomat, who served as head of the U.N. Iraq mission before the U.S.
In Iraq, the United States has used its private sector allies to build up
armies of mercenaries many lured from impoverished countries with the
promise of greater salaries than their home militaries can pay.
home governments of some of these private warriors are opposed to the war
itself is of little consequence.
“Have gun, will fight for paycheck” has become a globalized law.
“The most worrying aspect is that these forces are outside parliamentary
control. They come from all over and they are answerable to no one except a
very narrow group of people and they come from countries whose governments
may not even know in detail that they have actually been contracted as a
private army into a war zone,” says von Sponeck.
“If you have now a marketplace for warfare, it is a commercial issue rather
than a political issue involving a debate in the countries.
You are also marginalizing governmental control over whether or not this
should take place, should happen and, if so, in what size and shape. It’s a
very worrying new aspect of international relations. I think it becomes more
and more uncontrollable by the countries of supply.”
In Iraq, for example,
hundreds of Chilean mercenaries have been deployed by
U.S. companies like Blackwater and Triple Canopy, despite the fact that
Chile, as a rotating member of the U.N. Security Council, opposed the
invasion and continues to oppose the occupation of Iraq.
Some of the
Chileans are alleged to have been seasoned veterans of the Pinochet era.
“There is nothing new, of course, about the relationship between politics
and the economy, but there is something deeply perverse about the
privatization of the Iraq War and the utilization of mercenaries,” says
Chilean sociologist Tito Tricot, a former political prisoner who was
tortured under Pinochet’s regime.
“This externalization of services or outsourcing attempts to lower costs
third world mercenaries are paid less than their counterparts from the
developed world - and maximize benefits. In other words, let others fight
the war for the Americans. In either case, the Iraqi people do not matter at
NEW WORLD DISORDER
The Iraq war has ushered in a new system. Wealthy nations can recruit the
world’s poor, from countries that have no direct stake in the conflict, and
use them as cannon fodder to conquer weaker nations.
This allows the
conquering power to hold down domestic casualties — the single-greatest
impediment to waging wars like the one in Iraq.
Indeed, in Iraq, more than
1,000 contractors working for the U.S. occupation have been killed with
another 13,000 wounded. Most are not American citizens, and these numbers
are not counted in the official death toll at a time when Americans are
increasingly disturbed by casualties.
In Iraq, many companies are run by Americans or Britons and have
well-trained forces drawn from elite military units for use in sensitive
actions or operations. But down the ranks, these forces are filled by Iraqis
and third-country nationals. Indeed, some 118,000 of the estimated 180,000
contractors are Iraqis, and many mercenaries are reportedly ill-paid, poorly
equipped and barely trained Iraqi nationals.
The mercenary industry points to this as a positive: we are giving Iraqis
jobs, albeit occupying their own country in the service of a private
corporation hired by a hostile invading power.
Doug Brooks, the head of the Orwellian named mercenary trade group, the
International Peace Operations Association, argued from early on in the
“Museums do not need to be guarded by Abrams tanks when an Iraqi
security guard working for a contractor can do the same job for less than
one-fiftieth of what it costs to maintain an American soldier. Hiring local
guards gives Iraqis a stake in a successful future for their country. They
use their pay to support their families and stimulate the economy. Perhaps
most significantly, every guard means one less potential guerrilla.”
In many ways, it is the same corporate model of relying on cheap labor in
destitute nations to staff their uber-profitable operations.
multinationals also argue they are helping the economy by hiring locals,
even if it’s at starvation wages.
“Donald Rumsfeld’s masterstroke, and his most enduring legacy, was to bring
the corporate branding revolution of the 1990s into the heart of the most
powerful military in the world,” says Naomi Klein, whose upcoming book,
Shock Doctrine - The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, explores these themes.
“We have now seen the emergence of the hollow army. Much as with so-called
hollow corporations like Nike, billions are spent on military technology and
design in rich countries while the manual labor and sweat work of invasion
and occupation is increasingly outsourced to contractors who compete with
each other to fill the work order for the lowest price. Just as this model
breeds rampant abuse in the manufacturing sector — with the big-name brands
always able to plead ignorance about the actions of their suppliers—so it
does in the military, though with stakes that are immeasurably higher.”
the case of Iraq, the U.S. and U.K. governments could give the public
perception of a withdrawal of forces and just privatize the occupation.
Indeed, shortly after former British Prime Minister
Tony Blair announced
that he wanted to withdraw 1,600 soldiers from Basra, reports emerged that
the British government was considering sending in private security companies
to “fill the gap left behind.”
THE SPY WHO BILLED ME
While Iraq currently dominates the headlines, private war and intelligence
companies are expanding their already sizable footprint. The U.S. government
in particular is now in the midst of the most radical privatization agenda
in its history.
According to a recent report in Vanity Fair, the government
pays contractors as much as the combined taxes paid by everyone in the
United States with incomes under $100,000, meaning,
“more than 90 percent of
all taxpayers might as well remit everything they owe directly to
[contractors] rather than to the [government].”
Some of this outsourcing is happening in sensitive sectors, including the
“This is the magnet now. Everything is being
attracted to these private companies in terms of individuals and expertise
and functions that were normally done by the intelligence community,” says
former CIA division chief and senior analyst Melvin Goodman.
concern is the lack of accountability, the lack of responsibility. The
entire industry is essentially out of control. It’s outrageous.”
RJ Hillhouse, a blogger who investigates the clandestine world of private
contractors and U.S. intelligence, recently obtained documents from the
Office of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) showing that
Washington spends some $42 billion annually on private intelligence
contractors, up from $17.54 billion in 2000. Currently that spending
represents 70 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget going to private
Perhaps it is no surprise then that the current head of the DNI is Mike
McConnell, the former chair of the board of the Intelligence and National
Security Alliance, the private intelligence industry’s lobbying arm.
Hillhouse also revealed that one of the most sensitive U.S. intelligence
documents, the Presidential Daily Briefing, is prepared in part by private
companies, despite having the official seal of the U.S. intelligence
“Let’s say a company is frustrated with a government that’s hampering its
business or business of one of its clients. Introducing and spinning
intelligence on that government’s suspected collaboration with terrorists
would quickly get the White House’s attention and could be used to shape
national policy,” Hillhouse argues.
Empowered by their new found prominence, mercenary forces are increasing
their presence on other battlefields:
in Latin America, DynCorp
International is operating in Colombia, Bolivia and other countries under
the guise of the “war on drugs” — U.S. defense contractors are receiving
nearly half the $630 million in U.S. military aid for Colombia
mercenaries are deploying in Somalia, Congo and Sudan and increasingly have
their sights set on tapping into the hefty U.N. peacekeeping budget (this
has been true since at least the early 1990s and probably much earlier)
heavily armed mercenaries were deployed to New Orleans in the aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina, while proposals are being considered to privatize the
U.S. border patrol
Brooks, the private military industry lobbyist, says people should not
“overly obsessed with Iraq,” saying his association’s “member
companies have more personnel working in U.N. and African Union peace
operations than all but a handful of countries.”
Von Sponeck says he
believes the use of such companies in warfare should be barred and has harsh
words for the institution for which he spent his career working:
Nations, including the U.N. Secretary General, should react to this and
instead of reacting, they are mute, they are silent.”
This unprecedented funding of such enterprises, primarily by the U.S. and
U.K. governments, means that powers once the exclusive realm of nations are
now in the hands of private companies with loyalty only to profits, CEOs
and, in the case of public companies, shareholders.
And, of course, their
client, whoever that may be. CIA-type services, special operations, covert
actions and small-scale military and paramilitary forces are now on the
world market in a way not seen in modern history.
This could allow corporations or nations with
cash to spend but no real military power to hire squadrons of heavily armed
and well-trained commandos.
“It raises very important issues about state
and about the very power of state. The one thing the people think of as
being in the purview of the government — wholly run and owned by — is
the use of military power,” says Rep. Jan Schakowsky.
got a for-profit corporation going around the world that is more
powerful than states, can effect regime possibly where they may want to
go, that seems to have all the support that it needs from this
administration that is also pretty adventurous around the world and
operating under the cover of darkness.
“It raises questions about democracies, about states, about who
influences policy around the globe, about relationships among some
countries. Maybe it’s their goal to render state coalitions like NATO
irrelevant in the future, that they’ll be the ones and open to the
Who really does determine war and peace around the
Chile's Iraq Mercenaries
Under Investigation by U.N. Group
by Mike Hager
The Santiago Times
July 9, 2007
Hired Mercenaries Are
Second Largest 'Coalition Force' in Iraq
United Nations work group arrived in Chile today to begin
investigating the recruitment of Chilean mercenaries in the American war in
Iraq. The U.N. Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries (UNWG)
also hopes to get Chile to sign on to the 1989 U.N. Mercenary Convention
aimed at restricting mercenary activity.
The group, created in July 2005, has also investigated the recruitment of
Honduran, Ecuadorian, Peruvian, and Fijian citizens to fight or provide
military-related services in foreign conflict zones. Socialist Party Sen.
Alejandro Navarro estimates that as many as 1,000 former Chilean soldiers
are now working in Iraq.
In a report last year, UNWG denounced the 48,000 security workers in Iraq,
saying they make up the second largest "coalition" fighting force after the
United States. Great Britain provides the third largest number of military
A member of the U.N. Working
Group on the Use of Mercenaries
investigating U.S. company
Your Solutions last year in Honduras.
(Photo: Elmer Martinez / AFP-Getty
UNWG executive president José Luis Gomez del
Prado said the group will interview a wide range of people in Chile,
including N.G.O. workers, academics, journalists, and government officials.
Gomez del Prado was hopeful he could meet with
President Michelle Bachelet and said he was also open to meeting with the
Chilean most publicly identified with mercenary recruitment—(ret.) Gen.
"Presently, we know that there are
ex-military and ex-police recruited by a Chilean company with
headquarters in Uruguay, a company that has the support of a U.S.
company," said Gomez del Prado.
"These [private security] companies come to
Latin American countries and recruit people for $31 a day, which is what
we just saw in Peru. And once they are on a plane or bus, recruits are
made to sign an English contract with a sister company from the United
States, a contract that leaves them completely unprotected."
In 2005, for example, the Your Solutions
security firm sent 147 Chileans into conflict zones in Iraq; 28 of the
recruits broke their contracts and returned home early, claiming they
received inadequate training and poor equipment.
In September of that same year, Honduras kicked Your Solutions and its 105
Chilean mercenary recruits out of the country for training foreign military
in Honduran territory—in violation of national laws. When neighboring
Nicaragua refused to allow the mercenary training to continue in their
country, Honduras finally relented, allowing the mercenaries to complete 15
more days of training in Honduras before being shipped to Iraq.
Critics like Sen. Navarro fear that mercenary recruitment is increasing in
Latin America and that new companies are forming.
Amada Benavides, in charge of UNWG's Latin American arm, said in Peru
that mercenary recruitment is,
"a common problem within the region," even
though international law forbids mercenary activity. "Mercenary work is
condemned by the law, but the contractors are not," she said.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported
that 180,000 mercenaries are working in Iraqi territory, outnumbering the
160,000 American troops on the ground. The mercenaries include 21,000
American citizens, 43,000 foreigners, and 118,000 Iraqis. One thousand of
these privately contracted security personnel have died, reported the L.A.
Times, and at least 10,000 have been injured.
Retired Gen. Pizarro has been recruiting Chilean military personnel for the
past several years and said last week that he has 350 Chileans in Iraq
working for various companies, including Blackwater and Triple Canopy.
Pizarro also recruited 55 Chilean mercenaries currently serving in
Afghanistan, and 110 in Haiti.
Pizarro, considered by some to be the godfather of the Chilean mercenary
industry, recruited some 1,200 former Chilean soldiers for duty in Iraq in
less than two years. The majority are lured with wages deemed astronomical
by Chilean standards.
A Chilean guarding a ground facility such as an embassy earns $3,000 a
month, and can increase their income by taking on higher risk mobile
security assignments that can net up to $12,000 a month.
Pizarro ran into legal trouble in 2005 when Sen. Navarro urged Chile's
judicial system to indict the ex-Army official and military analyst for
violating the Law of Private Security, as well as being part of a criminal
operation. Navarro said that Pizarro's security firm Red Táctica has
access to classified information about Chilean armed forces, a situation
that constitutes a national security risk.
Red Táctica, which recruits former Army officers for security work in
Iraq, also came under fire for alleged labor abuse. Pizarro has since
changed enterprises and remains an integral part of the Chilean mercenary
Pizarro said last week he is ready to cooperate with the UNWG and disputed
labor abuse claims.
"No one has ever filed a complaint,
consequently, nobody has ever been accused of contractual irregularities
or labor abuses," he said.
Pizarro also objected to labeling Chilean forces
"mercenaries," saying that Chile's former soldiers are limited to security
work in Iraq and the term mercenary should only designate people hired for
killing other soldiers.
The U.N.'s Gomez del Prado believes the definition of mercenary needs
modernization to include the thriving private military and security firms.
"Anyone who is protecting a building in a
highly dangerous zone and returns fire after getting fired on should be
termed a mercenary," he said.
The U.N. working group will be in Santiago July
9-13 carrying out their investigation.
Latin American mercenaries
guarding Baghdad’s Green Zone
by Cesar Uco
28 December 2005
Wilder Gutierrez Rubio, 38, died a few
hours after arriving in Lima, Peru on December 6. Days before, he had been
diagnosed with severe leukemia at Ibn Sina Hospital in Baghdad and
immediately flown back to his home country.
Gutierrez was part of a 200-man Peruvian contingent sent to Iraq in early
October to provide security for Baghdad’s Green Zone, home to the US and
British embassies, the US Central Command and Iraqi government ministries.
It is widely suspected in Peru that Gutierrez’s leukemia was the result of
exposure to high levels of uranium in Iraq.
Weeks before, another Peruvian, Martin Jara Hichard, 40, was killed
in Kabul, Afghanistan. To this day it remains unclear how he died. Like
Gutierrez, he had signed on with a US recruiting firm to guard US
Gutierrez and Jara are two of more than 1,000 Latin Americans recruited by
US private security contractors to work as mercenaries performing dangerous
jobs in the countries under US military occupation. Their deaths underscore
the emergence of a cheap labor market for mercenaries that has thrived in
Since the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, about 20,000 mercenaries have
been hired to work as private security contractors. This figure represents
one mercenary for every seven uniformed American soldiers in these regions.
With $30 billion spent by the US Government on private security contractors
in 2004—its largest expenditure in Iraq after oil and construction—the
contractors have found a gold mine in the Latin American market.
War is big money and, like any other business today, security contractors
are scouring the globe looking for the cheapest labor so as to maximize
their war profiteering.
Unemployed young men from Peru—most of them former soldiers—are paid only
$1,000 a month—less than a tenth the salary paid to American mercenaries.
For $5.75 an hour—a figure that is roughly equivalent to the US minimum
wage—the recruits put themselves “in the line of fire” protecting US and
British interests in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Forbes magazine reports that the US Government,
“pays private firms between $500 and $1,500
a day for the experienced military personnel they supply in Iraq. That
works out to mercenaries who often earn between $150,000 and $250,000 a
Not so for the vast majority of mercenaries
recruited from Latin America. And while US mercenaries are rotated in and
out of Iraq on 90-day tours, the Latin Americans are committed to remaining
in the country for a year, without any relief.
Gutierrez and Jara would qualify as “experienced military personnel,” having
served in the Peruvian Air Force and Army respectively. In addition,
Gutierrez had received special jungle survival training.
Other Latin American mercenaries have been recruited in Chile,
Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Like Peru, all of these countries were the
scenes of “dirty wars” carried out by US-backed forces against their own
people. It is significant that training in militaries that produced death
squads, “disappearances,” massacres and torture is viewed as essential
preparation for aiding Washington’s “democratizing” mission in Iraq.
Martin Jara Hichard, the Peruvian mercenary who died in Kabul, signed a
contract with the US firm MVM Inc. Peruvians are recruited for
Afghanistan by 3D Global Solutions, another American firm. Wackenhut del
Peru represents 3D Global Solutions in Peru and is responsible for the
security of the US Embassy in Lima.
Virginia-based MVM Inc. is one of the firms reaping the greatest profits
from US imperialist aggression. It is dedicated to recruiting and training,
and identifying personnel who have specialized training in security. Since
its founding in 1979 by three former members of the US Secret Service, MVM
has built a strong business partnership with the US government. Its largest
client is the US State Department, which has contracted the firm to provide
security for 80 American embassies.
In 2003 it was awarded a $100 million contract
by the US Department of Health and Human Services to guard American
hospitals. MVM was responsible for the protection of American officials in
Haiti during the overthrow of the democratically elected president, Jean
Besides protecting US facilities in Baghdad, the firm’s lucrative business
in Iraq includes training the Iraqi police. As a result of US wars and
occupations, MVM has seen its revenues multiply more than six-fold, from $30
million in 1997 to $190 million in 2004.
Wilder Gutierrez Rubio was hired in October by the private security
contractor Triple Canopy Operations, a firm established by three former
members of the US Army’s elite Delta Force. It is represented in Peru by
Defion International SAC, which is responsible for hiring mercenaries
Peruvian authorities have accused Triple Canopy, 3D Global
Solutions and MVM of compelling those they hire to sign contracts
that lack normal legal protections required by the country’s labor laws.
The Peruvian press reported, for example, that
the Triple Canopy contract,
“exempts the government of the United
States, the hiring company and its subsidiaries from all responsibility
for each of the claims, losses, damages and injuries that may occur” to
The contracts run for one year and are
While the Latin American mercenaries hired by these firms receive some of
their military training upon arrival in Iraq or Afghanistan, the contractors
have quickly moved to take “cost-saving” measures by covertly contracting
the services of the Peruvian Army and setting up a clandestine training camp
In his article “For
a Fistful of Dollars,” correspondent Emilio Paz wrote:
“The Peruvian newspaper El Comercio in late
October revealed that the Peruvian Army was actively involved in
furnishing trained mercenaries to the United States. A contract between
the Army and Triple Canopy, signed September 23, stated that the Army
would set up four training courses at its base in Huachipa, the
“The first course trained 218 ‘civilian volunteers,’ for which the Army
was paid 104,640 soles by Triple Canopy—the equivalent of US$30,657; the
second trained another 218, but the Army charged more: 156,960 soles, or
US$45,985. The third course trained 120 men for 86,400 soles, or
US$25,313, and the fourth, 122 men for 87,840 soles, or US$25,734. The
total number of mercenaries trained was 678.
“When questioned about this by [the Peruvian] Congress, Defense Minister
Marciano Rengifo acknowledged that the Peruvian Army had agreed
to train the ‘civilians’ for a total payment of 435,840 soles, or
The Peruvian training camp is not the only one.
In September, the Honduran Government ordered
the expulsion of 105 Chilean mercenaries, who had entered the country as
tourists or businessmen. Hired by the recruiting firm Your Solutions—another
Triple Canopy subsidiary—the Chileans were attending a training camp led by
US and Chilean personnel in Lepaterique, 16 miles northwest of the capital
The facilities being used, apparently without the knowledge of the Honduran
government, were set up by the US Central Intelligence Agency in the 1980s.
There, a combination of CIA personnel and members of Argentina’s military
intelligence trained both the “contra” mercenaries attacking Nicaragua and
Honduran security forces.
They were taught the methods of torture,
“disappearance” and political repression developed under the Argentine
dictatorship. Lepaterique became the headquarters of the infamous Battalion
316, which unleashed a wave of political killings, torture and imprisonment
against opponents of the US-backed government of Honduras.
Oscar Aspe, a former officer of the Chilean army, recently told the
Honduran newspaper La Tribuna that he and the other mercenaries were
being trained to “guard dignitaries, buildings, ports and other facilities,”
“We are fulfilling a mission for the US
government,” identifying the Bush administration as his client.
The Honduran newspaper reported that in just one
day in November, Your Solutions shipped 108 Hondurans, 88 Chileans and 16
Nicaraguans to Iraq. It is estimated that there are about 700 Peruvians, 250
Chileans and 320 Hondurans working in Baghdad’s Green Zone. La Tribuna
also confirmed that the monthly pay was $1,000, with an additional $500 for
While private security contractors describe the job as a non-combatant
position, dismissing the term “mercenaries,” this is contradicted by the
heavy military training with “combat” weapons that use 5.56 millimeter and 9
A recruit in the Honduras camp told the AFP news
agency that the instructor,
“explained to us that where we were going
everyone would be our enemy, and we’d have to look at them that way,
because they would want to kill us and the gringos too... So we’d have
to be heartless when it was up to us to kill someone, even it was a
Foreign mercenaries face the same dangers as US
military personnel in Iraq and are essentially being recruited as
cheaper—and less politically sensitive—cannon fodder.
According to CNN.com, in 2004,
“the attacks that used to target the
military are now directed at civilian contractors and their private
security forces... At one point there were about 150 attacks per day.”
Iraq Coalition Casualties web site, has posted a “partial
list” of 293 contractor fatalities as of December 27, a figure that is
proportionate to the casualty rate for US soldiers deployed in Iraq.
Another indication that those taking these “security” jobs face the risks of
occupation troops is the dismemberment insurance offered to the mercenaries.
According to a Triple Canopy contract obtained by a Lima TV station, the
insurance payments are $243,000 for the loss of an arm; $225,000 for a leg;
$190,000 for a hand; $160,000 for a foot; $125,000 for an eye; $58,000 for a
finger, and $12,500 for a toe. The amount for loss of life was not reported.
Most of the Latin American mercenaries had served in their countries’ armed
forces and found themselves unemployed after leaving the military.
Wilder Gutierrez left his low-paying job as a supermarket supervisor. He
signed up for Iraq in an attempt to save money for his wife and young
daughter. Gutierrez lived in Marcavilca, a shanty town (pueblo joven)
located in the old working class district of Chorrillos in Lima.
His friends remember him as a healthy man who
was the best goal scorer on the neighborhood soccer team.
“He never got tired, we would have noticed
if he was sick,” said a friend. From Iraq, “Wilfred talked to his family
every week and never complained of any illness,” said a niece.
Gutierrez’s widow, Maria Gutierrez Amaya, told
CPN radio in Lima, Peru that her husband was not the only case of leukemia
in Baghdad due to high levels of uranium in Iraq.
Mrs. Gutierrez also complained that communications were supervised.
“They are instructed to ask questions about
how things are going in Peru, and when we ask about their situation, the
call is cut off,” she said.
Triple Canopy’s legal advisor showed a copy of
the health certificate issued by the Municipal Director of Health of the
city of Lima that said that at the time of his departure to Iraq on October
11, Gutierrez showed “no signs of disease.”
When he arrived in Lima on December 5, he had
lost seven kilos, his body showed bruises and his hemoglobin level was 5.7.
At his departure he had a level of 12.8. Wilfred Gutierrez died shortly
after midnight December 6 of an internal hemorrhage.
Aside from the fate of those Latin American being shipped off to Iraq as
mercenaries, the implications within the region itself are ominous. In both
Peru and Honduras, the recruitment and training of these elements involves
secret deals between the private contractors and the military—undoubtedly
with the participation of the CIA—apparently conducted behind the
backs of the elected governments of both countries.
Similar arrangements were worked out in Chile,
where the contractors were allowed to recruit from active-duty Chilean
To service the illegal US war and occupation of Iraq—and feed the profit
drive of the contracting firms—political relations and networks are being
cultivated that threaten to revive and strengthen the same forces that
produced the string of military coups and dictatorships that swept through
the continent three decades ago.