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News Link • Intelligence: Use and Abuse

The secret private-sector government

• Glenn Greenwald

Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, The Washington Post, today, arguing against civilian trials for Guantanamo detainees:

The civilized world has tried over several hundred years to establish rules of warfare so that those who wear uniforms, follow a recognized chain of command, carry their arms openly and do not target civilians are treated as prisoners of war when captured. Those who follow none of these rules are treated as war criminals, not as ordinary defendants accused of ordinary crimes and entitled to far more robust protection than war criminals.

Dana Priest and William Arkin, The Washington Post, today, on the sprawling network of private corporations performing core U.S. military and intelligence functions:

Private contractors working for the CIA have recruited spies in Iraq, paid bribes for information in Afghanistan and protected CIA directors visiting world capitals. Contractors have helped snatch a suspected extremist off the streets of Italy, interrogated detainees once held at secret prisons abroad and watched over defectors holed up in the Washington suburbs. . . . Contractors kill enemy fighters.  They spy on foreign governments and eavesdrop on terrorist networks. They help craft war plans. They gather information on local factions in war zones. . . .

Most of these contractors do work that is fundamental to an agency's core mission. As a result, the government has become dependent on them in a way few could have foreseen: wartime temps who have become a permanent cadre. . . .

Since 9/11, contractors have made extraordinary contributions - and extraordinary blunders - that have changed history and clouded the public's view of the distinction between the actions of officers sworn on behalf of the United States and corporate employees with little more than a security badge and a gun.

Contractor misdeeds in Iraq and Afghanistan have hurt U.S. credibility in those countries as well as in the Middle East. Abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, some of it done by contractors, helped ignite a call for vengeance against the United States that continues today. Security guards working for Blackwater added fuel to the five-year violent chaos in Iraq and became the symbol of an America run amok. . . .

Contractors in war zones, especially those who can fire weapons, blur "the line between the legitimate and illegitimate use of force, which is just what our enemies want," Allison Stanger, a professor of international politics and economics at Middlebury College and the author of "One Nation Under Contract," told the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting at a hearing in June.

The irony here is that the decision to declare enemy fighters in Afghanistan as "unlawful enemy combatants" -- which is what, in turn, "justified" denial of Geneva Conventions protections for them (at least until the Supreme Court ruled otherwise) -- was grounded in the fact that they do not, as Mukasey put it, "wear uniforms, follow a recognized chain of command, carry their arms openly."  That's what made them, in the U.S. lexicon, not only "unlawful combatants" but even Terrorists.  But, of course, exactly the same is true for our countless private contractors who are acting as combatants for the U.S. in multiple parts of the world; as Priest and Arkin document, they are so numerous and unaccountably embedded in secret government functions that they are literally "countless"

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