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Guest Column: Blackwater can’t run or hide from its bloody past: An Illinois update
Posted By Staff On August 26, 2009 @ 7:55 am In Online Exclusives | No Comments
By Dan Kenney
“Blackwater no longer exists,” said Eric Davis, director of Blackwater’s Illinois training site.
It was a blustery day last April, and I was visiting the training site on Skunk Hallow Road in pastoral northwest Illinois with a group of Franciscan Sisters. Unfortunately, Davis’s statement couldn’t be further from the truth.
Now called Xe Services (pronounced “zee,” a colorless and odorless gas on the periodical chart), most people in the company and out of it still refer to the company as Blackwater (another name for sewage water.) Blackwater is learning that a name change will not allow them to escape the blood on their hands.
In April 2007, Blackwater opened their first training classes in Illinois. The site was called Blackwater Midwest, later changed to Blackwater North, and now called U.S. Training Center. They have also changed their rifle site with a black bear paw to a bald eagle.
“I kind of wish they hadn’t changed their name,” continued Davis during our April visit. “It is going to mean a lot more work for us now to change all of our signs and paperwork.
Davis claimed he didn’t keep up with what was happening with Blackwater in the news. He refused to answer any questions about the “bigger picture,” as he referred to it. He would only answer questions about what they were doing at the site in Illinois.
“We provide the best training available for law enforcement and military personnel,” said Davis. However, when questioned, he said they also train almost anyone who fills out an application and pays the fee.
Participants are required to have a card that verifies they are allowed to use a firearm. Also, a participant is required to produce a letter “from a minister” or someone who affirms he or she is of good character. Indeed, many of the students who sign up for training are just National Rifle Association (NRA) folks wanting to improve their shooting ability.
Blackwater in Illinois claims on its Web site that about 1 million rounds of ammunition are expended there each year. They have guns to rent and ammunition to purchase on the site. They have the largest stockpile of weapons and ammunition found anywhere in the state, outside of National Guard armories and police departments.
When asked how enrollment was this year, Davis said it was down, about half from what it had been the last two years, “But we’re making it, just making it.” This is good news for us here in Illinois. For a company that is motivated by the bottom line, “just making it” may not be good enough.
According Davis, Blackwater has invested close to $1 million on the site. Blackwater, this past winter, built a “shoot house” on the property of 80 acres, where they can enact and rehearse hostage situations as well as forced entries.
The lower enrollment could also be related to the fact the Illinois Standards Board, which oversees the training of all municipal and county law enforcement within the state, has no desire to do business with Blackwater. They also refuse to certify Blackwater’s courses, and Davis said they were no longer going to seek State of Illinois Certification for their training.
Davis, a retired Marine who was in charge of security at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, when it was bombed in 1998, told us Blackwater did not exercise their option last September to purchase the training site property, and is still leasing the land.
“The economy has affected us as well,” Davis said. “Out in Moyock, they are planning to lay off 50, and internationally, we are downsizing by 50 percent.”
Our citizens group, Clearwater, followed the early April visit with a national conference of citizens, activists, journalists and Catholic Workers focused on Blackwater and other private military companies at the end of that month. The conference was held in a small town of 1,000, 20 miles from the Blackwater training site. The Clearwater group (nopriovatearmies.org) co-sponsored the conference with the Midwest Regional Catholic Workers. More than 130 attended from all over the United States.
Conference presenters included Kathy Kelly, of Voices for Creative Non-Violence; Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Most Powerful Mercenary Army in the World; Col. Ann Wright; Diane Wilson, singer/activist; Anne Feeney; and Christian Stahlberg, of Blackwater Watch. A film presentation sent by Raymond Lutz of Stop Blackwater (Protero, Calif.) was also included.
The conference concluded with a demonstration at the gates of Blackwater by more than 75 protesters. The state police were lined up behind the gate, shoulder to shoulder, waiting for us. We read a statement of citizen foreclosure on Blackwater for moral bankruptcy. We asked to be given permission to serve the Blackwater authorities with our notice of foreclosure and eviction. Being denied access, 22 crossed onto Blackwater property and were arrested for trespassing. Seventeen of those arrested later pled guilty and were fined, another five are to stand trial soon.
This is the second time individual citizens were arrested for trying to hold Blackwater accountable for their criminal actions, yet not a single Blackwater contractor or employee has yet been convicted of murder, weapons smuggling, tax evasion, CIA assassination plots, illegal firearm possession, and any of the violations of human rights for which it is alleged Blackwater is responsible. On the contrary, Blackwater continues to be under contract with the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan; they have been rewarded with multi-million-dollar contracts.
Clearwater, with the help of State Rep. Julie Hamos (D-18), attempted last summer to introduce state legislation preventing the use of any state funds for private military companies, but was blocked by our state police and state emergency management team. The state police said they would oppose any legislation limiting the use of private military contractors because the state police was required to do business with a company that is a subsidiary of SAIC to procure training.
SAIC is one of the top 10 military contractors in the United States. They have contracts worth billions of dollars with various agencies of the government, including the Department of Defense (DoD), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA).
The state police representatives said they needed grants from Homeland Security to help pay for the training required by Homeland Security; however, to get those grants, they had to employ private military companies to provide the training. Also, the lobbyist for the state Emergency Management Team (EMT) would not agree to the legislation because the EMT could need a company like Blackwater in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster, if more security were needed than could be provided by law enforcement and our National Guard. So, our legislation was blocked even before we could have it presented.
This summer, I also attended a closed-door workshop with the United Nations working group studying the use of mercenaries round the world. It was held at U.N. Plaza in New York, hosted by the International Peace Institute.
The U.N. group was assigned by the Human Rights Commissioner in 2005 to study the use of mercenaries, create a convention to regulate their use by states and set up sanctions for those states and companies that do not adhere to the convention.
The U.N. working group informed the workshop participants, which also included representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross, Human Rights First, Center for Constitutional Rights, members of academia, lawyers who represent the companies in suits involving victims, and a representative of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), which is the association to which many private military companies belong. (Blackwater was a member of IPOA until the Nisour Square shooting, when six Blackwater contractors killed 17 unarmed innocent men, women and children in September 2007. Blackwater withdrew from the association when the association said it was going to launch its own investigation into the massacre.)
During the workshop, much time was spent on when the use of mercenaries by a government would be acceptable. However, it was pointed out that it was never the intention of the U.N. to get rid of mercenaries, partly because the U.N. also uses private companies for security.
Hundreds of private military and security companies exist around the world, working in nearly every country on the globe. They provide security for NGOs such as the International Wildlife Agency, guarding rhinos from poachers; and guard U.S. bases in the U.S. and around the world.
“We are too dependent upon them to stop the use, but we can try to keep them on a leash,” one member of the workshop stated.
The workshop was part of the UN group’s two-week visit to the U.S. to study how our country uses mercenaries and what oversight is provided. The Working Group expressed several concerns about the increased use of mercenaries by the United States, especially in the increased use of private military security companies to guard forward bases in Afghanistan.
“This may further dilute the distinction between military and civilian personnel,” said a press statement given by the U.N. group at the close of their visit.
The U.N. group also expressed concern about the increased use of private contractors by the intelligence agencies, and with the continued use of contractor personnel for interrogating prisoners. The Working Group went on to make several recommendations that I will not list here. (http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/C0D2DED6AC092F9BC12576080035)
Jose Luis Gomez del Prado of Spain, former chairman of the U.N. working group, told me at a previous conference, “What we see when we travel around the world visiting countries is that we are creating a world of ‘green zones’ where security is becoming a commodity only the rich can afford.”
It is up to citizens to demand that security remain a right and not a privilege for those who can afford the price. It is up to citizens to make sure the market of force does not become a determining role in our foreign policy. It is also up to the citizens of the U.S. to make sure Blackwater does not become just the scapegoat company. Two of the contracts Blackwater has lost with the U.S. have instead been turned over to DynCorp.
DynCorp, and other military contractors in the U.S., are just as much a threat to our democracy. DynCorp has been investigated for sex trafficking, other human rights violations and fraud. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) has said, “DynCorp’s employees have a history of behaving like cowboys.”
This summer, I was also contacted by citizens in Virginia, Ohio, California and Florida about start-up private military companies wanting to come to their neighborhood and open a Blackwater-type training facility to train law enforcement and military personnel. These Blackwater “wannabes” see an opportunity to “cash in.”
We need to consider if we want mercenaries training our local police. Blackwater, for example, has a mobile training unit that can be hired to come to your community to train your police. According to the Blackwater Web site, they will be training police officers in Utah, Texas, New York, New Jersey and Florida between now and 2010.
Blackwater certainly still exists. Today, they are putting bombs on the drones that are bombing Pakistan, working in at least nine countries around the globe, running their own intelligence company, hiring their services out to Fortune 500 companies, training more than 50,000 law enforcement personnel around the U.S., as well as training police and military in foreign countries, protecting privately-owned freighters from pirates, and training members of the U.S. Navy in a converted warehouse in San Diego (a stone’s throw from the Mexican border).
The practice of privatizing and outsourcing security is deeply embedded in the standard operations of our military and our local law enforcement. Regardless of the name, a company anywhere that turns force and security into a product for the highest bidder puts democracy in danger everywhere.
Dan Kenney is co-coordinator Clearwater, online at nopriovatearmies.org.
from the Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2009 issue
Article printed from The Rock River Times: http://rockrivertimes.com
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