In a war filled with too-strange-for-fiction stories, this may be the strangest yet. Was Iraq's former electricity minister, jailed on corruption charges, really "sprung from a Green Zone prison this weekend by U.S. security contractors?" If so, how did they pull it off? And what does it say about the rapidly-expanding, ridiculously-lucrative, morally-ambiguous field of private militaries?Robert Young Pelton, author of the recently-published Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror, tells Defense Tech that his "guess (if the story is true) is that they simply presented their DoD and other credentials and said [the contractors] were there to accompany him to some mythical destination. Once out of prison it is very easy to leave the Green Zone and then take a taxi to Jordan, Syria, Kuwait or Kurdistan."He also figures that "there was no gunplay or violence involved... [A]nother likely scenario would be to simply bribe the jailer (by paying a family member) and then the jailer making up some cock and bull story."Brookings Institution Senior Fellow P.W. Singer -- who wrote Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, which has become the ur-text on this new wave of mercenaries -- is less interested in the particulars of the break-out. It's the long-term trend that bothers him: guns-for-hire running around war zones, with almost zero accountability, undermining the U.S. war effort again and again. He tells Defense Tech:
So the Great Private Military Escape joins the lengthy list vying to be made into a bad Hollywood movie (sorry, Blood Diamonds). My other favorites include the Triple Canopy lawsuit which alleges that a company supervisor told his employees that he had "never shot anyone with my handgun before" and then fired his handgun through the windshield of a parked taxi, killing the driver; the Aegis "trophy video," in which employees posted footage on the web of shooting at Iraqi cars on the web, set to Elvis music; the Donald Vance case, in which a US contractor was held 97 days without charges in a US military prison; the various Blackwater episodes, ranging from the 4 guys sent to Fallujah without maps, intell, or proper equipment, to the plane crash in Afghanistan, in which the plane lacked basic safety equipment and didnt even follow basic flight safety procedures, flying by guesswork into a box canyon, killing 3 civilians and 3 US Army; and of course dont forget the wonderfully named Custer Battles charging for all sorts of fraud at Baghdad airport, such as a bomb-sniffing dog that in the words of a US Army colonel turned out to be "a guy with his pet."At what point do we accept that this whole situation has gone well beyond the original idea of privatization and start to rein it in? Then again, the Army Under Secretary testified to Congress 2 months back that the Army had never authorized Halliburton or its subcontractors to carry weapons or guard convoys, denying we even had firms handling these jobs. So, I guess its like the end of Dallas, where the whole private military industry in Iraq (estimated by Centcom to be 100,000) was "just a dream."Phil Carter, just back from a year-long Army deployment in Iraq, notes that the 100,000 contractors (mostly logistics guys, not trigger-pullers) "very nearly doubles the size of the U.S. force in country. However, there has never been an open, public, meaningful debate over the wisdom of using so many contractors in so many battlefield roles. Instead, it has happened over time as the slow result of small policy decisions made by myriad actors. I think this will be one of the major policy questions which emerges from the Iraq war once it is over."