Thursday, May 04, 2006

Shadow Company

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but a few years ago I visited south Asia for a few weeks, and, of course, I took the cheapest possible flight, it connected through Kuwait City. I'd probably have taken a flight connecting through Baghdad if it had been 100 bucks cheaper, what can I say, I'm a sucker for cheap air travel.
Anyway, the whole experience was surreal. My traveling companion, P, and I, I didn't have a visa to leave the airport, and our airline, was putting us up in the airport hotel for our stopover.
There were big signs on the windows of the hotel which overlooked the runways and loading areas, that we were not to take any pictures out the hotel windows. Under our window, we could see a steady procession of commercial jets being unloaded by Americans in desert camouflage.
The whole rest of the hotel seemed to be filled with soldiers, but they weren't soldiers, they were 'contractors', wearing military uniforms, doing soldierly duties, or on their way to Iraq to fight.
Everywhere we looked in the hotel there was another American with a southern accent wanting to know if P and I were on our way to fight the war in I-raq. A thought which, of course, makes my skin crawl. Do I look like someone who would become a mercenary?
Everywhere I looked there were no soldiers, only contractors.
On my way home from the trip, I stopped over in Kuwait again, this time alone. I had been sick during the trip, so I wasn't nearly so upset by my stay at the Kuwait airport hotel the second time around, I was just glad to have my own toilet and shower and some alone time, for the first time in weeks. Mostly, I laid in front of the TV and relaxed (I laughed so hard when the censors blanked out the word 'homosexual' from an episode of NYPD Blue!). In the morning when I was at the terminal for my flight I met an older British man. He was there visiting his son, who (suprise suprise) was a 'contractor', I actually talked to this guy, instead of laughing nervously and running away, as I'd done with the chatty southerners at the hotel. He told me that his son was making a fortune at it, way more than he ever had as a soldier, and way more than he would have made doing the same job at home.
The whole experience left me intrigued by the whole situation. What's the deal with these mercenaries? If this is kosher, then why weren't they doing it before? Is this kosher?
On that topic, P, sent me an email last night, about a documentary that's being shown for free at the Bloor Cinema tomorrow (Friday May 5th) at 11:30 pm. I'm going to try to make it, hope to see some of the Toronto crowd there, and the rest of you can keep an eye out for it at your local theatres, it looks like it will be really interesting/disturbing. Here's the description from the website (click the title of this post for the link):

This year thousands of private soldiers will be deployed in conflicts worldwide. individuals, known as private security contractors, are changing the face of modern warfare. But to those at home, their world and influence remains a mystery.
Who are these security contractors?
What do they do?
Why do they do it?
Shadow Company, by Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque, is the groundbreaking feature-length documentary that reveals the origins and destinations of these modern-day mercenaries.


Princess Pessimism said...

The whole thing sounds a bit fishy to me....maybe they're snipers, but cant say that, so they say "contracters" instead...snipers kill on contract dont they??

Things like this, is probably in my top 5 of reasons why i'm looking forward to moving back. I hate living so far away from all the action. I still havent even seen HGF yet. But I keep getting the emails. El Mocambo...such a good venue that is. You wait Jenni, when I come back, you can call me up anytime, to do anything...the answer will always be yes.

yrautca said...

Interesting. Werent these private contractors also involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal as well? The militray, in that case, conveniently blamed the private contractors, citing a lack of proper knowedge of laws on POWs.

The UAEs are strange places. Kuwait city, Bahrain, Dubai – people go there to shop. The richer Arabs use them to party. And yet they are so internally conflicted that they would blank out ‘homosexual’. It’s utter hypocrisy. All these Arab rulers would make Michael Jackson look like a saint. Mind you, I am talking about Arab rulers not Arab people (obviously US didn’t feel the need to dethrone any of the dictators surrounding Baghdad).

You know it cuts both ways. The western cicvilzation has made some wrong choices in that region. But the local Arabs too have their heads too far up their behinds. Right now, they are relatively peaceful due to oil income. 15/20 years from now when oil is no longer the primary energy source, can you imagine the chaos that would ensue?

It all makes me think about that one post I wrote about race and darwinism. Why do all bad things happen in the Arab peninsula? Where theres smoke theres fire.

Jennifer said...

It's pretty common for people working in war zones to lie or be vague about what they are doing. The difference between a 'contractor' and a soldier is not what they do, they both do all sorts of things, it's how they got into it, and how much they get paid.
The soldiers are employees of the US government and they get paid very little. The 'contractors' are (as I understand it anyway) employees of private companies who are acting in the name of the US government. They are often former soldiers, they get paid way more and I'm not sure if they are accountable in the same ways that soldiers are. I don't know if the Geneva convention applies to them for example. We'll find out tomorrow.

Jennifer said...

I don't even know where to start with this.
There was a moment in the movie Syriana which you might find very enlightening. And if you just go watch it, it would save me haranging you for the next 5 ot 6 comments.

yrautca said...

Why do you find it offensive? I am certainly not trying to offend. I am just thinking and I get stuck thinking ok? And trust me when I think I am of no race or religion. I am beyond that.

Actually both whites and Arabs are the same race – Caucasians.

Bottom line is – human race is major let down.

Trib said...

Yeah, contractors. The get paid a lot, but they end up with some crappy assignments which they're expected to do because they're being paid a lot. Plus, when they get into it they're not that well armed or armored. Sure they've got some M16s, but that's nothing compared to having squad machine guns and the capability to call in armor and air-strikes. Snipers are probably going to be soldiers.

My roommate's friend was a contractor who had to leave Iraq following a little incident in which they got into a firefight with the Iraqi police and killed some of them.

My old roommate is over there now I think (I got locked out of my Army email so I'm having issues talking with him), but he hates the contractors he deals with. They're mostly truck drivers since he runs convoys as opposed to security contractors. They're as smart as privates, but ouside the command structure so you can't give them orders. And, yeah, they're not really accountable to anyone but the company they work for. Who isn't accountable to anyone. When he runs a convoy he's had as much as bradleys and apaches, but doesn't have less than gun trucks with vulcans and .50cals. Contrast that with an suv and rifles. I'd rather be military.

tokyo tintin said...

in a point geographical (and you know how much i love those), neither kuwait nor bahrain is in the UAE. UAE (meaning 'united arab emirates') is east of saudi arabia, on the opposite side of the persian gulf from iran. the capital is abu dhabi and the largest city is dubai.

to correctly refer to the countries in this region, you can say 'gulf states' --though this term is not clearly defined, and may or may not include, for example, oman or saudi arabia.

Jennifer said...

TT, I thought that too, but I was too lazy to go and check my facts to make sure before I said anything.

rawbean said...

I'm just jealous that you travelled the way you did!

Just stopped by to tell you your mixed CD list is ready over at my blog. Hope you enjoy!