Most Americans will know next to nothing about … the estimated 126,000 private military "contractors" who will stay put [in Iraq] as long as Congress continues funding the war.
The 145,000 active duty U.S. forces are nearly matched by occupation personnel that currently come from companies like Blackwater USA and the former Halliburton subsidiary KBR, which enjoy close personal and political ties with the Bush administration.
"We got 126,000 contractors over there, some of them making more than the secretary of Defense," said House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha. "How in the hell do you justify that?"
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman estimates that $4 billion in taxpayer money has so far been spent in Iraq on these armed "security" companies like Blackwater - with tens of billions more going to other war companies like KBR and Fluor for "logistical" support. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of the House Intelligence Committee believes that up to forty cents of every dollar spent on the occupation has gone to war contractors.
Although contractor deaths are not effectively tallied, at least 770 contractors have been killed in Iraq and at least another 7,700 injured. These numbers are not included in any official (or media) toll of the war.
More significantly, there is absolutely 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 activities. 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.
Before Paul Bremer, Bush's viceroy in Baghdad, left Iraq in 2004 he issued an edict, known as Order 17. It immunized contractors from prosecution in Iraq which, today, is like the wild West, full of roaming Iraqi death squads and scores of unaccountable, heavily-armed mercenaries, ex-military men from around the world, working for the occupation.
[Excerpt of an article by Jeremy Scahill, author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.]