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How Do You Like Your 16th-Century Monarchy?

Last week, I wrote about the decision by Judge T.S. Ellis III to overturn the $10 million verdict against Custer Battles. It was decided on the grounds that the company ripped off the Coalition Provisional Authority, an entity independent of the United States government, thus the False Claims Act does not apply.

This week, on the heels of an appearance on The Colbert ReportPaul Krugman and his facial hair weighed in on the mercenaries that continue to undermine U.S. efforts in Iraq.

Yet Blackwater, whose chief executive is a big contributor to the Republican Party, continues to thrive. The Department of Homeland Security sent heavily armed Blackwater employees into New Orleans immediately after Katrina.

To whom are such contractors accountable? Last week, a judge threw out a jury’s $10 million verdict against Custer Battles, a private contractor that was hired, among other things, to provide security at Baghdad’s airport. Battles has become a symbol of the mix of cronyism, corruption and sheer amateurishness that doomed the Iraq adventure — and the judge didn’t challenge the jury’s finding that the company engaged in flagrant fraud.


Tax farmers, mercenaries and viceroys: Why does the Bush administration want to run a modern superpower as if it were a 16th-century monarchy? Maybe people who’ve spent their political careers denouncing government as the root of all evil can’t grasp the idea of governing well. Or maybe it’s cynical politics: Fiefdoms provide both an opportunity to evade accountability and to create a vast source of patronage. [emphasis added]

A 16th-century monarchy? The fundies are in bunches at the thought of one.

But this certainly points out one glaring head scratcher with regards to Rummy’s attempts at modernizing the military. Since when was modernization tantamount to regression? As previous empires have learned the hard way, mercenaries are highly expensive and hard to control. Additionally, arm them with modern weapons, insert them in a volatile region in a media war with global communications, and you’ve got a serious problem on your hands.

Some people just never learn.

Mercenaries in Iraq have proved to be problematic, to put it nicely. And it doesn’t help that the President and his rubberstamp crony Congress have protected these people from the very beginning.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Scahill from The Nation continued covering Blackwater for the publication, noting a three judge panel’s decision to keep the wrongful death suit against the company in North Carolina courts. The families of the four slain in Fallujah in March 2004 and Blackwater tried to get it dismissed in federal court.

In its motion to dismiss the case in federal court, Blackwater argued that the families of the four men are entitled only to government insurance payments under the federal Defense Base Act. Many firms specializing in contractor law advertise the DBA as the best way for corporations servicing the war to avoid being sued. "What Blackwater is trying to do is to sweep all of their wrongful conduct into the Defense Base Act," says Miles. Blackwater spokesperson Chris Taylor told the Associated Press, "We are reviewing the decision."

Blackwater argued in its appeal that the four men "were performing a classic military function…with authorization from the Office of the Secretary of Defense that classified their missions as ‘official duties’ in support of the Coalition Provisional Authority" and therefore any court, federal or state, "may not impose liability for casualties sustained in the battlefield in the performance of these duties." In other words, because Blackwater was supporting the occupation with its forces, the company is immune from damages or lawsuits. The court said this argument "proves too much" to permit, saying Blackwater’s "constitutional interpretations" were "too extravagantly recursive for us to accept."

The images of the charred bodies hanging from "Blackwater Bridge," as it is now known, sparked the massive assault on the city, killing 600 Iraqis. Soon the Abu Ghraib abuses would be unearthed and down the spiral we go on Bush’s misadventure in Iraq.

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