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Modern mercenaries, licensed to kill

Mercenaries, the ancient predecessors of the modern Private Military Companies (PMCs) or Private Security Companies are regarded as the second oldest profession after prostitution.

The PMCs don’t like the title of mercenaries though, as the word itself carries a negative connotation. In a secret recording released by Michigan LIVE’S Tony Reimink, Erik Prince, the boss of former Blackwater now known as Xe, said, “These people, they crawled out of the sewer and they have a 1,200 AD mentality. They are barbarians.”

US private security officers are shown in 2003 in a Chinook helicopter that was guarding L. Paul Bremer, Iraq's U.S. civilian administrator at the time, as he ventured near the city of Basra, left, Tens of thousands of such employees operate in the war-torn country. Clockwise, Blackwater contractors, shown in 2005, have an arsenal of helicopters, turreted armored vehicles and automatic weapons at their service. Below, then-US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is shown in 2005 surrounded by Blackwater bodyguards.Photo: AP

The employees of the PMCs, the private security contractors, risk their lives for much higher income than serving in the army. They have the motto of “never to be taken hostage”. 

Four American civilians (Wesley Batalona, top left, Scott Helvenston, top right, Jerry Zovko, bottom left, and Michael Teague, bottom right, in undated family photos) who were also Blackwater’s private security contractors, were shot in an ambush and were burned in their vehicle on the street by an angry crowd in Iraq’s Falluja city located on the Euphrates River during the Iraq War in March 2004. Their corpses were dragged out from the car and dismembered. “The people of Falluja hanged some of the bodies on the old bridge (spanning the river) like slaughtered sheep,” said a local resident, according to BBC news.  

This bloody event made their employer Blackwater famous overnight throughout the world and raised awareness about the role of this special force in national and international conflicts. 

Founded in 1997 by Erik Prince (right) who was a former US Navy Seal member, Blackwater was one of the largest private security companies providing military services in Iraq and reportedly had deep-rooted political connections with Washington. It counts several top CIA officials and the legal team of Blackwater once included a White House counsel named Fred Fielding.

Since the cold war ended and the US military was downsized, the US has become more dependent on the private security forces. The Bush administration pushed the use of these private contractors and assembled a civilian force of 126,000 people to support 146,000 US troops, according to the Defense Department and the industry figures, reported the US Today on November 6, 2007.

So what exactly these private military companies do? In the book Rise of Privatized Military Industry, author P.W. Singer wrote that these military service providers would offer troops for tactical operations; military consultants to provide expertise for governments, NGOs, UN and private clients; and military support companies for selling intelligence, engineering and logistics services.

According to the evaluation results by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Pentagon signed 3,061 contracts with a total value of $300 million with 12 top American private military companies from 1994 to 2002.

“There is no legal basis for the US to send its regular army to some areas of conflict according to international law. Through cooperation with the PMCs, the US can interfere on civil excuses and achieve the benefits that government operations cannot. And in case the military interference turns out to be a failure, the PMCs can take the blame and responsibility for everything,” according to a consensus view of a number of fans on Tiexue, a very popular and highly recommended military bbs in China. 

Most families of the 17 Iraqis killed in a shooting in 2007 by security contractors used by the US government accepted settlement of $100,000 from Blackwater in the year 2010, and the federal judge finally dismissed charges against Blackwater contractors that were involved in the shooting, NBC news reported.

The case proved the security contractors of the PMCs are above the law and its major client was nowhere to be found.

As for China, though some believe that establishing Chinese PMCs can benefit to protect China’s overseas economic interests, such as its overseas mining and other ODI projects, the idea is still highly unlikely to be put in practice in the country.

In China, where the ruling Communist Party has the absolute power over the military, a PMC with a license to kill may add the possibility of turning the current social contradictions caused by social injustice and the huge wealth gap into real conflicts.

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