Monday, February 15, 2010

"Hired Guns in Iraq May Have War Crimes Pasts" and "Here Come the Death Squad Veterans" by Louis Nevaer

Hired Guns with War Crimes Past, Louis Nevaer, 5/18/2004,

Pacific News Service

When a suicide bomber parked a van disguised as an ambulance in front of the Shaheen Hotel in the Karadah neighborhood of Baghdad on Jan. 28 and blew himself up, he killed four people and wounded scores of others.

He also blew the lid off a dirty little secret of the Coalition Provisional Authority: Due to its "outsourcing" of privatized security services, the CPA has put terrorists, mercenaries and war criminals on the payrolls of companies contracted by the Pentagon.

After the Shaheen Hotel blast, departmental spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa at South Africa's Foreign Ministry confirmed that one of the Westerners killed was South African Frans Strydom. Four of the wounded were also South African nationals, including Deon Gouws, who sustained serious injuries.

News that Strydom and Gouws were in Iraq sent shockwaves throughout South Africa: In front of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, both men were granted amnesty after confessing to killing blacks and terrorizing anti-apartheid activists, acts that can only be called crimes against humanity.

In Iraq, Strydom and Gouws were employed by Erinys International, a security firm based in the United Kingdom. Erinys Iraq, the subsidiary of Erinys International, was awarded a two-year, $80 million contract in August 2003 to protect 140 Iraqi oil installations. Erinys has been awarded subcontracts to protect American construction contractors, including Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root.

"It is just a horrible thought that such people are working for the Americans," said Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, speaking to European reporters last month.

Strydom was a member in the Koevoet, Afrikaner for "Crowbar," an outlaw group that paid bounty for the bodies of blacks seeking independence during the 1980s. The Koevoet terrorized blacks in Namibia and northern South Africa for more than a decade. Hundreds of deaths are attributed to its members.

More notorious is Gouws' past. A former police officer, Gouws was a member of the notorious Vlakplaas death squad that terrorized blacks under apartheid. Only after South Africa established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Col. Eugene de Kock, a former death-squad leader who supervised Gouws, applied for amnesty, did the activities of the Vlakplaas come to light. Gouws faced a choice: repent by confessing, or be charged with crimes. He applied for amnesty, confessing on his application for absolution to killing 15 blacks and firebombing the homes of "between 40 and 60 anti-apartheid activists."

There are an estimated 1,500 South Africans employed by security contractors in Iraq, according to the South African foreign ministry. Many used their backgrounds as mercenaries during Apartheid to bolster their credentials.

After being pardoned but ostracized in South Africa, "Where are these men expected to go?" asked Judge Goldstone.

Erinys International refused to comment on the matter.

The role of civilians contracted to work in Iraq was relatively unknown to most in the United States until four American security contractors met grisly deaths in Fallujah in March. While the vast majority of individuals contracted for security work may be honest, hardworking professionals, the desperate search for manpower is allowing criminals to join their ranks.

"At what point do we start scraping the barrel?" Simon Faulkner, the CEO of Hart, a respected British security company, asked recently in the New York Times. "Where are these guys coming from?"

Not only apartheid-era terrorists are finding opportunities in Iraq. Prior to the U.S.-led war, Saddam Hussein hired over a dozen Serb air-defense specialists - at the reported cost of $100,000 a month - to devise a mobile radar system that would protect Iraq's air defenses from attack. Many were wanted for their paramilitary activities during the Balkan Wars in Europe.

Upon the American takeover of Iraq, some of these Serbs remained behind, selling their services to the highest bidders, including security firms under contract to provide protection for employees of Blackwater USA and Titan Corporation of San Diego. They have now been joined by some of their compatriots, who had been working for the Pentagon for several years in Afghanistan. "The Bush administration is so eager to avoid responsibility for order in Afghanistan that they've outsourced to mercenaries the work of protecting Afghan President Hamid Karzai," Dave Marash reported in the Washington Monthly in March 2003.

Karl Alberts, a South African pilot, recently prepared to travel to Iraq. Before he left he was arrested and charged with mercenary activities in Ivory Coast in 2002 and 2003.

But for every Alberts who fails to make it to Baghdad, others succeed. Though their numbers are relatively few, the harm these men can do to an occupation government desperately seeking support from the Iraqi people is enormous.

Louis E.V. Nevaer is an author and economist whose most recent book, 'NAFTA'S Second Decade' (South-Western Educational Publishing, 2004), examines the political economy of the international development and trade.

Here Come the Death Squad Veterans

As violent attacks continue in Iraq, corporate America is turning to Latin America to "outsource" protection services to veterans of the region's 'dirty wars'.

Posted on Jun 16, 2004, Source: Pacific News Service ©

If Miguel Pizarro has his way, he will recruit 30,000 Chileans as mercenaries to protect American companies under Pentagon contract to rebuild Iraq. And undoubtedly, within those ranks will be former members of death squads that tortured and murdered civilians when dictatorships ruled in Latin America.

"There is no comparison with what they can earn in the active military or working in civilian jobs, and what we offer," Jose Miguel Pizarro, Chile's leading recruiter for international security firms, says. "This is an opportunity that few in Chile can afford to pass up."

Pizarro's firm, Servicios Integrales, was contracted by Blackwater USA to recruit the first batch of Chileans in November 2003. By May 2004 he had placed 5,200 men who, after one week of training in Santiago, head to North Carolina for orientation with Blackwater, the private security firm that made headlines when four of its employees where killed in Falluja, their bodies mutilated and hung from a bridge. After training, Blackwater flies the men to Kuwait City to await their assignments in Iraq.

As democratic governments were voted into office throughout Latin America in the 1990s, Latin militaries were downsized. Thousands of military officers lost their jobs. "This is a way of continuing our military careers," Carlos Wamgnet, 30, explained in a phone interview from Kuwait while awaiting his assignment in Iraq. "In civilian life in Chile I was making $1,800 a month. Here I can earn a year's pay in six weeks. It's worth the risks."

At 30, Wamgnet is too young to have participated in any crime of the Pinochet regime. But not all the Chileans in Iraq are guiltless. Newspapers in Chile have estimated that approximately 37 Chileans in Iraq are seasoned veterans of the Pinochet era. Government officials in Santiago are alarmed that men who enjoy amnesty in Chile -- provided they remain in "retirement" from their past military activities -- are now in Iraq.

In an interview with the Santiago-based daily newspaper La Tercera, Chilean Minister of Defense Dr. Michelle Bachelet stated that Chilean "mercenaries for American firms doing business in Iraq" may be subject to "arrest or detention in third countries," a reference to recent arrests in Spain and Mexico of South Americans with war-crimes pasts. South American media report that Chileans have requested travel from Chile to the United States and then directly to the Middle East, to bypass Mexico and the European Union. The thousands of Chileans in Iraq have been nicknamed "the penguins" by American and South African soldiers for hire, a reference both to Chile's proximity to the South Pole and the fact that many Chilean mercenaries are of mixed race.

Not everyone in Chile is opposed to the presence in Iraq of former Chilean army members. "It is true that the majority [of Chilean recruits] see this as an opportunity to earn money," La Tercera columnist Mauricio Aguirre wrote."But it is also an opportunity for our soldiers to prove themselves on the ground, and to put to use the skills for which they trained in the Armed Forces over the years."

"Blackwater USA has sent recruiters to Chile, Peru, Argentina, Colombia and Guatemala for one specific reason alone," said an intelligence officer in Kuwait who requested anonymity. "All these countries experienced dirty wars and they have military men well-trained in dealing with internal subversives. They are well-versed in extracting confessions from prisoners."

As the security situation in Iraq deteriorated in the spring of 2004, more "dedicated recruiting" began.

Though Chile is in vigorous debate about the role of military servicemen becoming hired guns in Iraq, in Argentina there is virtual silence. Several Argentine mercenaries have made their way to the United States to meet with American security firms before heading to Iraq. "No one wants to discuss what is becoming clear," says Mario Podesta, 51, an independent Argentine journalist. "I know of seven military officers responsible for disappearing opponents of the dictatorship" who are now in Iraq. During Argentina's "dirty wars," opponents of the military regime were "disappeared" (abducted), tortured and then killed.

Podesta spoke to this reporter in early April. He was in Jordan preparing to travel by road to Baghdad, along with Mariana Veronica Cabrera, 28, an Argentine camerawoman. "I want to find these men," he said of the Argentine 'dirty war' criminals he had identified as being mercenaries in Iraq. It was not to be.

Podesta and Cabrera were killed, along with their Iraqi driver, in an automobile accident before reaching Baghdad.

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