Just to make sure we’re all on the same page: Blackwater is a horrible, horrible, horrible company, right? Like, everyone with a conscience is aware of that fact? Everyone who works there is not a horrible person (many are just trying to survive), but we all know that the organization is bloody awful, yes?
Okay, so starting from that premise, why read a book that tells you in detail about how horrible it is? Because it’s good. Really good. It is very well researched, with a level of detail in the writing that brings home the realities of just how atrocious an organization this is.
Scahill provides a history of the company, from its roots in the southern U.S., through the Iraq war and into present day, where Blackwater (now ACADEMI) has truly terrifying plans. He discusses the problems of a mercenary army – recruitment, payment, accountability (well, lack thereof), lawlessness. He uses the murder of four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah as backdrop against which the book is set, returning to what happened, how it happened, and the impact on the families. That running story points out how expendable these contractors are to the company. Their lives may be on the line, and they may be getting great compensation (unless they are from South American or Africa, which Scahill addresses in the book), but in the end, the company doesn’t care about them. Their deaths are a PR issue, but that’s about it.
The biggest problem with contractors like Blackwater from the perspective of the county and the world is that they are essentially mercenaries. They are paid to protect the elite, to do things that our military might or might not be able to do, and they aren’t accountable to anyone. They may technically be subcontractors, but they aren’t covered by the same laws as private citizens, and they pretend to be military even though they don’t have the same oversight. They can do whatever they want with minimal consequences; claiming immunity as a quasi-military organization. It’s despicable.
From the perspective of the families of the contractors who are killed due to the careless policies of Blackwater (and, by extension, the U.S. government for contracting with them), these contractors don’t get the same respect and care as the military. Some of them may be doing work that troops would have done in the past, but because they aren’t military, they don’t get the same benefits, or support. Is that wrong? I don’t know. You can argue they know what they signed up for, but Blackwater is so shady that who knows what they were really told, and how much time they all had to really review what they signed.
Beyond the tasks Blackwater performed in Iraq and Afghanistan, they also ingratiated themselves in the Katrina response, taking part in disaster profiteering. They lied about saving lives, and tried to not pay the contractors the prevailing ways.
This company isn’t just bad for the reasons stated above; they are bad because of what they represent: a shift from governmental accountability to private (stockholder / owner) accountability. One thing about war is that the country is supposed to feel the consequences of it. It should keep us from just going to war with anyone we dislike, without cause. But as more of the actions are shifted to mercenary companies like Blackwater, who’s to speak up and say it’s not okay?
If you have any interest in this, and want to have some details to back up your understanding that Blackwater is just appalling, check out the book.