Government Reform

Nothing to See, Here

|

Josh Marshall reports that the State Department outsourced investigation of the Blackwater incident in Iraq. 

To Blackwater.

NEXT: I Like to Watch You With Your Drawstring Bag

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Christ.

    Are there any Blackwater employees who read this blog? I’d really like to ask a few questions.

  2. Mein Gott. Whitewater in the last administration. Blackwater in this one.

    Request and Question

    could the next admin avoid color-liquid combinations?

    And do they really want to hear that funk in Dixieland (alternatively: do they really honkey tonk?)?

    kthxbye

  3. Blackwater really creeps me the hell out. They answer to no law, whether Iraqi or American. In today’s WSJ, there was an article about them and how 122 employees were dismissed from Iraq for reasons from drug/alcohol, misusing weapons and inappropriate conduct. They currently have 1,000 employees in Iraq. Yet their CEO says the bad actors are the exception, not the rule. I can’t see how someone could say that when almost 1/8 of the staff on hand were dismissed (this is probably a high percentage as there is likely more employees that are cycled, through, but it’s still high turnover).

    This looks worse when you look at the stuff they cover up, like killing one of the Iraqi vice-president’s guards. They paid his family $15 grand in hush money. How fucked up is that? No wonder the Iraqis don’t trust us.

  4. vertical integration!

    the cost savings will be tremendous! More money for the war!

  5. Isn’t making the providers of services less answerable to political demands part of the reason people support privatization of government functions?

  6. Dammit man, the Doobie Brothers broke up! Shit! When did that happen?

  7. yes Joe, or put another way, cant ExxonMobil and the Weekly Standard just hire Blackwater and we can get the American Military the hell out of there?

  8. Who outsources the outsourcers?

  9. In other words, the Blackwater employees who did the shooting gave State an account that largely exonerated themselves.

    But it turns out that the State Department employee who interviewed the Blackwater folks and wrote the report, Darren Hanner … well, he wasn’t a State Department employee. He was another contractor from Blackwater.

    Why in the hell did the State Department even release this piece of shit report? It had zero credibility. It reminds me of cops investigating a SWAT fuckup.

  10. So, will this incident spawn a conversation re: anarchism?

  11. Or rather, the minarchy v. anarchy debate.

  12. Who outsources the outsourcers?

    Kellogg-Brown & Root

  13. Looking at Joe’s comment, libertarians would be well served to remember this.

    Whether or not this is the logical outcome of privatization on a global level, and I would argue that it is not “automatically” the outcome, it is indeed one risk of privatization that libertarians are not willing to countenance realistic discussion on.

    This is not an isolated case, nor is it surprising for those of use who have followed other military/law enforcement (the Republican war on drugs has made the distinction between military, as Mr. Balko has amply documented) privatization, like prisons. This was an expected outcome, within the 90% likely hood that things of this nature will not only continue, but accelarate.

    If we ever do end up with “re-education” camps for people like myself, they will most likely be run by non-responsive private entities who have no obligations to the rule of law, as currently described in contract laws.

    In other words, we should have expected this, the evidence showed that this would happen, and most economists and libertarians will assiduously refuse to contemplate this from a factual, logical standpoint, and will instead cling to emotive responses that do not deal with the anti-liberty implications.

    Markets in everything, means markets in everything, including the bounty that will be placed on the heads of free men.

    When urban pacification becomes needed here in this country, Blackwater may get the contract, didn’t we hear reports of them in NO after Katrina?

  14. Sometimes there are REASONS why people providing government services incorporate values other than economic efficiency into their operations.

    Sometimes squeezing those efficiency-sapping values out the system isn’t a terribly good idea.

  15. But…but…profit motive only encourages businesses to more efficiently serve their customers!

  16. If I’m ever charged with a crime, I’ll do the responsible thing and save the taxpayers some money by investigating it myself. That way they won’t have to pay a cop.

    I’ll even serve as my own judge and jury. Cuts down the costs.

  17. Hay Mr. Colton!

    What does the T stand for?

  18. Dan –

    Blackwater is in fact efficiently serving its customers. Its only customer is an administration of criminals and thugs who want an iron fist jammed up the ass of the Iraqis, and who also want no press coverage of it. Blackwater, by shooting up the joint and then lying about it and covering it up, is meeting the demands of their customer 100%.

    Johnny –

    This is why I want the police power solely and absolutely under state control in all its manifestations: law enforcement, military defense, court administration and criminal justice, and the penitentiary system.

    Liberty is a matter of, first, what the laws are, and second, whether those laws are enforced correctly and honestly. Some libertarians are so obsessed with the concept of competition that they want it applied to the police power, but doing so does not serve the end of liberty and in most cases serves to undermine it in the long run.

  19. Sometimes there are REASONS why people providing government services incorporate values other than economic efficiency into their operations.

    Like My Lai and SWAT operations? Seriously, people with power often abuse that power for mundane and downright evil reasons. Government or contractor, it’s going to happen. What boggles my mind is an entity investigating itself. The State Department official who thought that Blackwater should have ANYTHING to with the investigation other than answering, not asking, questions should be cashiered. I don’t KNOW that these security guards were at fault, but this report does nothing to assuage my suspicions.

  20. A lot of the above posters obviously have libertarianism confused with conservatism and liberalism as defined by the Republicans and the Democrats. Here is an interesting paper that gives a brief history of policing in the past and ask the question if the police are constitutional. http://www.constitution.org/lrev/roots/cops.htmIt is disappointing reading arguments disparaging libertarianism from posters who obviously misunderstand what the philosophy is really about. For those of you who care to learn about libertarianism the philosophy a good place to start would be either Mises site or LewRockwells site they generally have links to works from authors that are considered libertarian and the works from authors from the 18th and 19th century are really interesting because they come from a time when the US government was not the leviathian that it is today. Reagan was a hypocrite but he was correct when he said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”.

  21. Can anyone tell me what part of libertarian ideology is associated with invading foreign countries on dubious pretenses and then occupying them for extended periods of time, or using an occupation government to issue laws that state contractors working for the government are above the law and allowed to shoot civilians with impunity? Maybe then I will feel some sort of collective guilt for this.

    Anyhow I doubt that it is significant at all to Iraqis whether they are killed by Blackwater, American soldiers, Al-Qaeda, the Mahdi Army, etc, and I don’t understand what is so uniquely bad about this event. Don’t American soldiers accidentally kill Iraqi civilians all the time when they have to make sudden judgments about their own safety? This is just more reason why the war needs to end.

    (Not that I don’t think this story is worth reporting. It’s always good to hear about the random violence that average Iraqis are exposed to in the hope it will encourage more people to support withdrawal.)

  22. teh-

    against it – that’s the only association. in fact, that’s gotta be the second fucking stoopidest thing, today.

  23. Don’t American soldiers accidentally kill Iraqi civilians all the time when they have to make sudden judgments about their own safety?

    Soldiers and Marines are subject to UCMJ; Blackwater (and other contractors) are not. Blackwater et alia are also not subject to Iraqi law per Paul Bremer’s Order 17.

    This is just more reason why the war needs to end.

    Seconded.

  24. I don’t think this event, by itself, is an argument against mercenaries. Blackwater is not being vry efficient at all; it is providing very poor service to the customer, the US Government, if it recklessly shoots up the place, maximises collateral damage and all the rest of it. The end result is to portray the customer in a very poor light and to potentially drive up costs enormously.
    By this measure of efficieny, Mattel is being efficient when it sells ultra-cheap shoddy products because it stop counting once the toy is out of the door. But it does not stop counting. You have recalls and nightmare public relations.

    Same thing here. This is not a case of the efficieny of privatization vs the caring values of public provision. This is Blcakwater doing a crappy job. So no I don’t think the case has been made against privatization of security just because of Blackwater.

  25. J sub D,

    Like My Lai and SWAT operations?

    No. Not even remotely relevant. Did you just pick two examples of people who work for the government behaving badly, and think they amounted to a response?

    If you don’t understand one of my points, you should ask me to clarify it.

  26. Blackwater exists because our government is as corrupt as any other governments that have existed in history. We choose to be blind to that corruption because we believe we live in a democracy. I personally think democracy “the tyranny of the majority” is over rated yes it’s better than any of the other forms of governments that are currently in existence but that’s not saying much when the competition is socialism (all it’s forms including communism) and monarchy.

  27. Libertarianism only believes wars of defense can be considered just. That means if they come here we kick the shit out of them. Libertarians understands that war is like welfare a government program.

  28. SM,

    To the extend that these mercs’ behavior differed from that of the uniformed military because Blackwater can operate in a more efficient manner – such as worrying less about civilian casualties – due to its lack of accountability to the UCMJ, then this is an example of the greater efficiency of private contractors.

    They have been rendered more efficient because they aren’t bound by the political – no scare quotes, political is exactly the right word – contraints imposed on the military by policymakers.

  29. Mercury switches.

    ka-flooie. that is heavy shit.

  30. If you don’t understand one of my points, you should ask me to clarify it.

    Alright, joe, WTF is your point? That gov’t employees are more concered about the citixens than contractors? Or that gov’t employees are more law abiding than contractors? Or some other esoteric advantage of gov’t employees?

  31. Nope, none of those.

    My point is exactly the point made so often by advocates of privatization – that government service-providers are bound by political constraints, by conditions imposed on them by their bosses in the political branches of government.

    While these political constraints can most certainly cause the service-providers to be less economically efficient than private contractors not bound by those constraints, that is not the only effect those constraints can have.

    The management of a privately-owned parking garage might decide that it’s not economically efficient to have 6 handicapped spaces right in front of the door, since there is usually at least one open and available at any time, while the regular spaces get filled up. And they’d probably be right.

    The management of a government-owned parking garage might realize this, too, but their bosses impose this efficiency-sapping mandate on them for a reason: because they value the provision of this service to handicapped people, and the greater good that society achieves from making it possible for handicapped people to come into town and go about their business.

    Ditto with forcing fighters to abide by the UCMJ.

  32. See, J sub D, I’m talking about how systems function.

    You’re talking about which people are better people.

  33. I trust Blackwater more then I trust the State Department, the MSM and Josh Marshall.
    We need more Blackwater companies, not less.
    And God bless America for producing Blackwater and God dammend America for producing the State Dept., the MSM and Josh Marshall.

  34. To add to what Joe is saying, in the context of libertarian political theory we have to keep in mind one simple fact:

    The only reason there’s any check on Blackwater’s behavior at all is because the state’s military is larger and more powerful than it.

    Why doesn’t Blackwater just declare itself the government of Iraq and enslave everyone there? Because our military, and the militaries of neighboring states, wouldn’t allow them to do so.

    The strain of libertarianism that holds that we can privatize the police function completely needs to look long and hard at Blackwater’s behavior. In the absence of a larger state military allowing us the opportunity to review Blackwater’s conduct and chasten them for it, these guys could kill whoever they wanted and then just lie about it and no one could say shit. Some anarcho-capitalist will come back now and say, “Well, there would be other security companies!” but strangely, we haven’t heard a peep out of any of the other companies in Iraq, now have we?

  35. Joe,

    I’m not sure I understand you analogy, if there is one handicapped space open regularly, why not reduce the handicap spaces down to 5?

  36. They have been rendered more efficient because they aren’t bound by the political – no scare quotes, political is exactly the right word – contraints imposed on the military by policymakers.

    We agree that accountability is important. We agree that Blackwater should be held accoutable. We probably agree that the Bush administration has completely screwed up the execution of this occupation. We apparently disagree that contractors are inherently unaccountable. If these Blackwater employees are guilty of wanton murder of civilians, I’d be at the front demanding prosecution and punishment. Security guards at the local bank don’t get Garte Blance, and security guards hired by the State Department should;nt either.Just as I demand investigation into US soldiers and marines have to answer for their actions, I demand that civilian hired by the gov’t be treated likewise. And oh yes, gov’t employees committing atrocities is very relevant to this discussion.

    From the UCMJ,

    802. ART. 2. PERSONS SUBJECT TO THIS CHAPTER

    Among others,

    (10) In time of war, persons serving with or accompanying an armed force in the field.

  37. Nice strawman, joe.

    I’ve never heard of libertarians who advocate privatizing military services, and if such exist, then they are being idiotic. Blackwater and its ilk are just another symptom of a foreign policy gone horribly awry. Indeed, most libertarians believe that the military (in some form or another) is one of the few things the government absolutely must do.

    Also, I don’t believe that libertarians necessarily fetishize the contracting out of civilian services. They obviously contain the risk of corruption. The libertarian point is that such programs should be eliminated entirely, not merely contracted out to someone’s golfing buddy at taxpayer expense.

  38. See, J sub D, I’m talking about how systems function.

    You’re talking about which people are better people

    And I’m contending that this incompetent administration has all the tools necessary to ensure the proper functioning of it’s employees, uniformed or otherwise. I’m certainly not contending that they utilized them.

  39. L.I.T.,

    To make sure that there are always handicapped spaces available if they are needed. I used a little shorthand there – in a real parking garage, there are always coming and goings and the available spaces fluctuate wildly. I was just talking about maintaining enough spaces that there would always, or almost always, be some available.

    J sub D,

    I agree with you that government contractors can be held accountable to poltical concerns, if the government so structures the contract. However, one of the arguments I always hear in favor of privatization is that the contractors will be more efficient because of the elimination of “red tape.” Well, that red tape is often the political standards and practices that have been imposed on government employees for a reason.

  40. ChrisO,

    I guess I know about libertarianism than you do, because discussions about private armies and other security forces has a very long history in libertarian thought.

    As does the use of competing private contractors to take over operations being performed by government entities.

  41. Reading the UCMJ before discussing it is a good idea .

  42. That was for you, joe.

  43. The Sons of Leviathan
    Robert Higgs identified the Leviathan as an opportunistic beast, using crises – real or manufactured – to expand its realm, to slither its tentacles into the remaining halls where large amounts of liberty are found. Any national or international event can be spun into the need for more government, more interventions, and more intrusions of its slimy appendages.

    Crises never seem to arise often enough for those wanting more power. Therefore, government will manufacture events, or spin the innocuous or unrelated incident into a crisis, whenever it desires more of the people’s liberty. What occurs at the national level also occurs at the local level as the sons of the Leviathan seek their own bits of power, the tidbits dropped from the mouth of the great beast

  44. J sub D,

    Blackwater has been specifically exempted from the UCMJ. The UCMJ applies to the military in their dealings with Blackwater, but does not apply to Blackwater.

    So, no, once again your little superior pose just serves to advertise your ignorance. As usual. You really shouldn’t do that unless you know what you’re talking about.

  45. And that’s why the FBI, and not a military investigator, is now conducting the investigation.

  46. Holding this up as an example of how private security is worse than government security is a strange tact considering the same folks were harping about things, like, ohhhhh, abu ghraib?

  47. J sub D,

    This is for you:

    One of the last acts of Presidential Envoy to Iraq L. Paul Bremer before he left his post in June 2004 was to issue a decree, known as Order 17, that made private contractors in Iraq immune from prosecution. (An attempt has been made to rectify this exemption in the 2007 defense spending bill, which includes a line “that could,” according to Scahill [emphasis provided], “subject contractors in war zones to the Pentagon’s UCMJ” [Uniform Code of Military Justice].)

  48. I guess I know about libertarianism than you do, because discussions about private armies and other security forces has a very long history in libertarian thought.

    As does the use of competing private contractors to take over operations being performed by government entities.

    I guess I have better things to do.

    It must not be a very common strain of libertarianism. The whole point of libertarianism is to remove the offense to liberty entirely, not to contract it out.

    And I’d say Blackwater is a very good illustration of this. Of course, a federal government living within libertarian boundaries would have no need for private security forces.

  49. It’s definitely a minority position, about as common as privatizing roads, but you do see it.

  50. Blackwater has been specifically exempted from the UCMJ. The UCMJ applies to the military in their dealings with Blackwater, but does not apply to Blackwater.

    Really? If so, that’s more Bush incompetence. You got a link for that? I googled “UCMJ Blackwater” and found nothing germane.

  51. I got that quote out of the Baltimore Sun, the first link that came up when I googled Blackwater UCMJ.

    But I’ll agree that exempting private contractors from regulations that the government puts on its own personnel is incompetance. It is also one of the primary arguments offered to explain why privatizing state functions is a good idea.

  52. Despite this episode, I’m all for privatizing foreign security forces.

    Oil companies shouldn’t be getting their security services in the Middle East funded courtesy of US taxpayers (and outsourced to private contractors).

    Entirely cutting out the middle man (the US government) would make this whole situation better for all involved parties.

    Oil companies should hire Blackwater directly to provide whatever security they need, just leave the rest of us out of it.

  53. ChrisO,
    joe is correct that there are strains of libertarianism, sometimes discussed here, that believe that law enforcement should be privatized (and the more extreme versions include privatizing the military). Incidents like this demonstrate why this would be madness. At the end of the day, it’s a net good that our military and law enforcement are beholden to civilian leadership. Sure they fuck up a lot (and I mean A LOT), but imagine how much worse it would be if their bosses didn’t need consent of the governed.

  54. One of the last acts of Presidential Envoy to Iraq L. Paul Bremer before he left his post in June 2004 was to issue a decree, known as Order 17, that made private contractors in Iraq immune from prosecution. (An attempt has been made to rectify this exemption in the 2007 defense spending bill, which includes a line “that could,” according to Scahill [emphasis provided], “subject contractors in war zones to the Pentagon’s UCMJ” [Uniform Code of Military Justice].)

    I’ll take that as true for the time being (Damn joe, links aren’t that hard!) It doesn’t surprise me that the Bush administration made another attempt to exempt themselves from the law. I do find it difficult to beleive that Bremer had the legal authority to rewrite the UCMJ in Iraq. Since neither of us are experts on military law, I guess we’ll have to let the courts sort it out. If your main point is that the Bush administration is incompetent and continually violates the law for ots own ends, I agree 100%. Still that has little to do with contractors.

  55. I think that y’all who are talking about libertarians who wish to privatize the military are thinking of anarcho-capitalists, who have advocated the use of private defense contractors. Please realize that this is quite removed from the gov’t employing private military contractors. In one case you have no gov’t, so people or groups of people pay others to defend themselves and their property. In the other case you have a gov’t hiring mercenaries to fight wars. Big, big difference. Anyone who wishes the gov’t would disappear is not going to be happy that the gov’t is hiring people to kill for it.

  56. To make sure that there are always handicapped spaces available if they are needed. I used a little shorthand there – in a real parking garage, there are always coming and goings and the available spaces fluctuate wildly. I was just talking about maintaining enough spaces that there would always, or almost always, be some available.

    what about for those of able bodied people. Do you advocate that there should always be enough spaces available for us? Why leave one extra handicapped space that is underutilized if all the regular spaces are fully utilized?

  57. Sigh.

    No, that is not my point.

    My point is perfectly clear. It has been stated several times. You just don’t want to answer it.

  58. highnumber,

    I wasn’t applying this lesson to the idea of private companies using private security firms.

    I was applying it to the government paying private companies to take over the performance of government duties.

    LiT,

    I’m not “advocating” anything. I was giving an example of a particular government making a decision that incorporated an objective other than the maximally efficient use of resources.

    Whether you or I think that this particular objective is worthwhile really isn’t the point.

  59. All right, joe. Not just you, but a lot of people seem to conflate privatization and libertarianism and/or anarcho-capitalism. They do this for good reason, to be sure, because incrementalists would advocate privatization while on the road to elimination of gov’t services. It seems to me that, at least for certain duties the gov’t claims for itself, it is unwise to bring profit motive into the equation. Military and prison staffs are the two easiest examples of where this could really screw things up.

    Rule of thumb, when rent-seekers would be apt lobby for more war and imprisonment, don’t privatize.

  60. Joe,

    You point is faulty. Yes, the government could force the owner to have an extra parking space, but what use would that be when there’s obviously no need for it on a daily basis, vs. the need of able bodies drivers for an extra space.

  61. I was applying it to the government paying private companies to take over the performance of government duties.

    The government has been contracting out security for a long time. Go to the nearesr federal building and what’s the first thing you see? A Rent-A-Cop. Visit the Social Security office, who’s providing security? Rent-A-Cops. The VA hospital? Rent-A Cops. And on, and on, and on. And yes they are cheaper than government (civil service) employees

  62. Basically joe, the handicap space is arguable, and a matter of inconvenience. The Blackwater thing concerns restraining a civilian opporation from acting like a military one. The arguments never cross.

  63. I think that y’all who are talking about libertarians who wish to privatize the military are thinking of anarcho-capitalists, who have advocated the use of private defense contractors. Please realize that this is quite removed from the gov’t employing private military contractors.

    And whether you are an anarcho-capitalist or a more mainstream libertarian you’d be plain stupid if you didn’t think it necessary to supervise the contractors you hire. I guess for joe that assumption doesn’t go without saying.

  64. This is nothing more than a Republican Farce a ruse. When asked about a Justice Department Investigation the CEO stated he welcomed an investigation then smiled. He welcomes it because he knows Cheney is going to block every subpoena.

    When asked about the no-bid contract he skirted about that like he was doing the Texas two step.

    Then the big question not one of the Senators picked up on was the graph presented showing how prior to 9/11 he had $200,000 in Gov contracts but currently has well over $475 million. Not because now he’s a rich man but the contract was let to him with no bids because he was already in the area (Iraq).

    If that doesn’t make you think then you’ve got to be a few gallons short of full.

    Also I wish the Republican Senators would stop wasting my tax dollars with nothing to say. This is a senate hearing not an awards luncheon. If they continue with nothing more to say they need to be dismissed.

  65. The issue here is not one of contractors vs. public employees but rather supervision.

    I happen to know that in certain federal research institutes you will see a great many people with ID cards that say “contractor” rather than “employee.” They work in offices alongside employees, they file the same TPS reports, push the same papers, make purchases from the same accounts, attend the same meetings, and (in practice if not on paper) answer to the same people. Oh, on paper they might answer to somebody in an outside company, but on a day-to-day basis they answer to the same people as any federal employee.

    Of course, in the day-to-day conduct of their work they are bound by the same rules as any federal employee. (Although I’m sure that if you pushed hard enough you could find cases where the “contractor” status brings special rules into play.)

    This is done for the ostensible purpose of saving money on benefits packages and overhead. Now, whether this actually saves any money is a question you’ll have to ask the accountants. (Remember that an outside company is still charging some overhead.) But it doesn’t seem to produce any unusual or controversial situations.

    The issue is one of accountability. If the people performing the task are immune to the rules (either because the rules have been written to exempt them or because somebody isn’t enforcing rules) then you’ll see abuses no matter what the ID card says. If the people performing the task are subject to rules then you’ll see, well, something rather mundane by government standards. (Yes, that’s a low standard.)

  66. thoreau,

    Don’t need government for that phenomenon. I’ve seen it in the private sector, too. With independent contractors and, Jesus help us, consultants.

  67. The issue here is not one of contractors vs. public employees but rather supervision.

    That’s undoubtedly true. However, there’s a good reason why the military has its own special criminal code, and also why civilians of whatever stripe are exempt from it. This dictates that privatizing soldiers is simply a very bad idea.

  68. However, there’s a good reason why the military has its own special criminal code, and also why civilians of whatever stripe are exempt from it. This dictates that privatizing soldiers is simply a very bad idea.

    OK, that’s a good point.

  69. ChrisO,
    joe is correct that there are strains of libertarianism, sometimes discussed here, that believe that law enforcement should be privatized (and the more extreme versions include privatizing the military). Incidents like this demonstrate why this would be madness.

    I really wasn’t aware of that when I posted earlier. That is absolute nuttery. Civilian control of the military is one of the biggest reasons that we are still a (relatively) free country. It’s one thing to privatize the janitors, but the guys carrying the M16s are a slightly different matter.

  70. Civilian control of the military is one of the biggest reasons that we are still a (relatively) free country.

    Do we civilians really have control of our military, even when they are not mercenaries?

  71. I read in today’s WSJ that the Army’s contractors do have to abide by the UCMJ, but the State Department’s don’t. There apparently are fears by the “good” contractors that the lawless contractors make them look bad.

    Also, I found it funny that Prince was complaining about the cost to train his contractors and that the estimates he got from the government lowballed them. It’s ironic because Blackwater’s men are largely former military men, so we already paid for most of their training.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.