Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Blackwater, ahem, Camden County, needs AK47's
by idealistlefty June 29, 2008

Did anyone catch the article earlier in the week about Blackwater getting raided? Federal agents were there as, "part of an investigation into whether the private security company sidestepped federal laws prohibiting the private purchase of automatic assault rifles."

No, surely not Blackwater. Surely the 22 automatic weapons, including 17 AK47's, are desperately needed for an "emergency" in a county of 9,272 citizens. You know how riled up us Southerners get during football season, right? But, it was all above board, according to Blackwater spokesmen, who said that the Camden County Sheriff's Office was the official owner of said weapons (which Blackwater financed the purchase of) and had full access to them even though they were kept in Blackwater's armory. The best part, the part that largely escapes mention in most articles covering this topic...if they sheriff's office needed these AK47's so badly wouldn't you think they would have trained their deputies with them? Yeah, me too. Thing is - not one of the 19 Camden County deputies are qualified to use them.

Now, I'm not a fan of over-privatization of historically governmental functions like intelligence (did you know that 70% of the yearly intelligence budget is spent on private contractors?!?! It is no surprise that Blackwater is also branching out into the intelligence business either...and yes, I did say business) and defense anyway. I truly believe some things are just inherently governmental in nature and to cede their production or service delivery to a private third-party company is to chip away at bit at our founding democratic principles. In order to uphold the democratic values that its authority is based upon, the government has to be transparent in its foreign and domestic policies. Utilizing third-party sources for defense, military, and intelligence is legitimate only as much as it is allowed by the citizenry. And this, only if there is true, authentic information-sharing taking place so the citizenry truly knows what its government is doing with public funds in pursuit of some collective interest.

There is a value judgment in use of the word “mercenary” to describe for-profit security firms like Blackwater, but it does speak to the core issue of the clash of goals and values between the public and private sectors. Blackwater’s involvement in several incidents, including Nisour Square, have brought into sharp focus the issue of private companies, doing government work, being held to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) like all military members. Currently they are not and it has caused a huge gap of accountability in holding the company responsible for its employees’ actions. It also begs the question of who is ultimately responsible – the government, on whose behalf they are acting, or the private company, on whose behalf they are also acting? Since, ultimately, the government is seen to be accountable, there must be effective monitoring functions to make sure its agent is acting in line with its stated goals. However, as mentioned previously, if the U.S. wouldn’t commit troops to an area, does it lose legitimacy and betray public service ethics to instead utilize for-profit businesses to do the same? The answer is normative and too big for this one blog post I guess.

However, if we have decided, wrongly in my opinion, to privatize these functions, the least we can do is to provide active monitoring and hold them accountable. It seems that, concerning Blackwater, neither of these is happening.

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