Conor points us to this post by Kelley Vlahos on private military contractors and the myriad abuses committed by them on the taxpayers’ dime. Writes Vlahos:
Thanks to whistle-blowers — at the threat of their own security, professionally or otherwise — we have been informed of some of the basest, grossest behavior coming out of the contracting world on the taxpayers’ dime today. Whether it be soldiers electrocuted by cheap, poorly installed showers by KBR and Triple Canopy, the vodka-drug- fueled pimping frat boys from the Armor Group or the gang rape of a female American contractor by her fellow KBR employees, there is seemingly no end to evidence that the proliferation of privatization has created a runaway Frankenstein of venality, arrogance, avarice and corruption and downright evil, with no restraint that I can see, whatsoever.
Take this latest bit about the Armor Group. Thanks to the Project on Government Oversight, which had the wherewithal to FOIA the goods on this group, we now know that there has been unfettered depravity — including, we heard last week, the procurement of imported, unwitting Chinese girls for sex — at our U.S Embassy. Not surprisingly, there has been a ton of finger-pointing about who knew what and when, but the fact remains that the company got its $187 million contract renewed even after allegations began to surface. Not much different than (Blackwater) Xe, which got its contract renewed in Iraq last week even as their former guards stand trial for murder and the company has banned by the Maliki government for ever working there again.
There’s a serious problem with private/public collusion when it comes to military affairs. If I had it my way, we’d outlaw mercenary contracts with the U.S. government outright. But the abuses of firms like KBR – an engineering contractor – complicate the problem further. Can the U.S. military function without the hosts upon hosts of contractors now employed in Iraq and Afghanistan? I think they could, but I think it would require a re-prioritization of our military funding. Of course, we have no lack of defense budget – the question is whether we can return funds now going to Xe (Blackwater) or KBR or Armor Group or any of the other private contractors to our government military forces.
Would our soldiers be capable of guarding embassies or building showers? I think so. And they’d be subject to military oversight.
Two things I really hate about the private contractor business: One, it turns warn into a profiteering effort, and that’s both morally repugnant, and also very bad precedent. If engineers want to go to Iraq they should join the military. And two, these private firms like Xe funnel out our highly trained soldiers – trained at the taxpayers’ expense – and hire them out, and then pay their much higher salaries with diverted federal dollars. To me, the pennies don’t add up.
Or, as Vlahos puts it:
I honestly believe private contractors, mercenaries, profiteers — whatever you call them — are one of the most destructive elements in the indefinite foreign military presence in Afghanistan today. Aside from the criminal behavior, the waste and the fraud and the abuse (all well-documented), as “strategic communications” they are a disaster. They shame us, they breed mistrust and fear among the people we supposedly there to help and most importantly, they broadcast with a bullhorn that the bottom line is more valued than honor, respect, ethics or responsibility (kind of like our society back home!) And we are all at fault for letting it happen.
It is shameful, and it should stop. That the contracts and the continued abuses continue into the Obama administration says probably more than enough about our current President’s commitment to meaningful reform in our foreign policy. I am left time and again thinking we’d be in no different a position at all if McCain had been elected except we might be having a less heated health care debate and a more heated discussion on exiting Iraq and Afghanistan.