(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans says there is an effort underway to privatize the U.S. army, and that it should be carefully examined.
(Seamans) General John Abizaid said at the Abu Ghraib prison hearings, “We still don’t know what we don’t know” – a very useful phrase in Washington I hope that President Bush, in one of his promised weekly tv addresses, tells us about an American mercenary force in Iraq about which we still don’t know what we don’t know.
This story about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s effort to privatize the Army as much as possible has been thus far overwhelmed by other news. Rumsfeld’s aim is to relieve G.I.’s from routine duties and transfer them to combat units. But when the enormous taxpayer cost of maintaining this private civilian armed force becomes known, Rumsfeld surely will be asked, is this extraordinary expenditure really necessary?
When you see photos or tv of Bush’s viceroy in Iraq, Paul Bremer, walking around – he usually is surrounded by bodyguards in civilian clothes carrying automatic weapons at the ready. They are civilian contract employees earning from $500 up to $1,500 a day – yes, I said up to $1,500 a day! They also guard the Baghdad airport, oil wells, contract supply convoys, and have provided interrogators in Abu Ghraib prison. Under a reported hundred million dollar contract they protect the Green Zone, the big sealed off area in Baghdad containing the headquarters of Paul Bremer, the army and the embryonic Iraqi government.
This private army is made up mostly of former elite Special Forces troops and Navy SEALS. They work for companies run mostly by retired Generals and Admirals among whom the most notable is General Carl Vuono, the former army chief of staff.
This force is estimated by unofficial sources to number around 20,000, more than the British troops in Iraq. Question? Why should we taxpayers who support the world’s most powerful military force have to pay a second time to privatize many essential army duties? Why doesn’t Rumsfeld use the money to recruit more troops to do the job for regular army pay?
Meanwhile, these mercenaries are not subject to the Code of Military Justice thus are not under the control of the army commanders in whose areas they are operating. Questions have been raised in Congress over the secrecy shrouding a private armed force which operates beyond congressional and detailed news media scrutiny. Also questioned is whether the U.S. government can control this private force as it grows in size with no legal restraints.
Yes, indeed, these rent-a-troops certainly are something about which “we still don’t know what we don’t know.”
This is Bill Seamans.
Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.
This is a corrected transcript. In the broadcast version, Paul Bremer was misidentified.