In a Democracy Now! interview, Rep. Jan Schakowsky calls for the withdrawal of all guards with the firms Blackwater, DynCorp and Triple Canopy over the next six months from Iraq and Afghanistan. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: I want to read from the Washington Post, the top story today. It says, “How Blackwater Sniper Fire Felled 3 Iraqi Guards.” It’s by Steve Fainaru. He writes: “Last Feb. 7, a sniper employed by Blackwater USA, the private security company, opened fire from the roof of the Iraqi Justice Ministry. The bullet tore through the head of a 23-year-old guard for the state-funded Iraqi Media Network, who was standing on a balcony across an open traffic circle. Another guard rushed to his colleague’s side and was fatally shot in the neck. A third guard was found dead more than an hour later on the same balcony. Eight people who responded to the shootings — including media network and Justice Ministry guards and an Iraqi army commander — and five network officials in the compound said none of the slain guards had fired on the Justice Ministry, where a U.S. diplomat was in a meeting.” That’s from the front page of The Washington Post today.
Well, a new congressional measure is calling for the speedy removal of hundreds of armed private military contractors from Iraq. On Wednesday, Democratic Congressmember Jan Schakowsky of Illinois introduced a bill that would withdraw all guards with the firms Blackwater, DynCorp and Triple Canopy over the next six months. Each company is paid an estimated $1.2 billion to guard U.S. officials in Iraq. The private military industry has come under unprecedented scrutiny following another killing, the September killing of 17 Iraqis by Blackwater guards. Under Schakowsky’s proposal, the initial removal would be followed by a full withdrawal of an estimated 48,000 armed contractors by 2009.
Congressmember Jan Schakowsky has been one of the leading congressional critics of the private military industry, joining us right here in Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Congressmember Schakowsky.
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: It’s a pleasure to be with you, Amy. I’m a big fan, and I want to say hello to all the people watching on CAN TV in Chicago. I’m so glad that you’re there.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s right. Every morning, live at 7:00. Thanks so much for joining us, Congressmember. Explain what your SOS bill is exactly.
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, we think that it’s time to remove these private for-profit unaccountable security companies, private military companies — this is a burgeoning industry of a kind of “have war, will travel” — and get them out of Iraq and eventually out of anywhere that the United States is in conflict. They are working “at cross-purposes” — those are the words of Secretary of Defense Gates — right now in a war zone, and they have no business being there. There have been — they’re completely unaccountable and operating with impunity.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, how exactly do you propose to have them removed? How does it work? And how much support do you have?
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, they would simply be replaced by people who wear the badge of the United States of America, either by military personnel or by expanding the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.
You know, after 9/11, when we were worried about aviation security, every single person involved in security at the airports was made a public employee so that we could be in full control of the training, of the hiring, so that we would know exactly who was there, and we would feel more secure. We’ve done exactly the opposite in Iraq and in Afghanistan, where — and in Colombia. You heard on the last segment that there is a presence of private contractors really on every continent right now. And so, we would just replace them over the next six months.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you respond to those politicians who have said, to the private security firms, what many call “mercenary” firms, have said are — these are highly trained people, often former Navy SEALs, etc., that provide the kind of security that the U.S. military cannot provide?
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, that’s a pretty serious condemnation of the U.S. military, if we now have to rely on these private companies, some of which are actually skimming the most-trained people out of our military, offering them salaries that can’t be matched by the military. And that’s, by the way, creating a big morale problem among our uniformed servicemen and women who are also risking their lives and yet being paid a fraction of what these guards are being paid.
But, absolutely, we can have people of equal quality. But you know what? They also have people who worked under the Pinochet government when there were death squads, who formerly worked for Milosevic, or people who were graduates of the School of the Americas or pro-apartheid fighters from South Africa. These are often the people that populate these private military companies.
They’re not all cowboys, but, you know, in fact, the four Blackwater employees who were killed in Fallujah were very skilled people. They should never have been sent on a mission by Blackwater that was doomed to failure from the beginning. And their killing in Fallujah changed the entire direction of the war in Iraq, helped promote and spark the insurgency there, created the battle of Fallujah, where 27 Marines were killed. They are changing the mission. They’re changing it for the worse and endangering our troops, who, all of them, I think, should be out of Iraq. But these private companies are making it worse.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Schakowsky, have you gotten to read this front-page Washington Post story today? On February 7th, not the September 16th, but, well, almost, what, eight months before…
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: You know, I just — I glanced at it this morning. There was also a murder in the Green Zone by a Blackwater employee on Christmas Eve of last year. There have been zero prosecutions completed — only two started — of all of the private contractors. That would include even the Halliburtons who provide different services in Iraq. Imagine, Amy, there’s been literally hundreds of thousands of private contractors in Iraq and only two prosecutions. That’s impossible in a population that size. And the reason for that is that there are no rules governing them. And in fact, the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority, gave them immunity from prosecution. And Secretary Rice said there is clearly of a hole in the law. This is a serious problem. We have to get them out of there.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, [Steve] Fainaru’s piece is an extremely extensive piece. It goes onto a full page of The Washington Post after the top headline story. And it says, “The Feb. 7 shootings convulsed the Iraqi Media Network, one of the most prominent symbols of the new Iraq, in anger and recrimination. U.S. officials and the security company, now known as Blackwater Worldwide, offered no compensation or apology to the victims’ families, according to relatives of the guards and officials of the network, whose programming reaches 22 million Iraqis.”
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Isn’t that interesting, though, that we didn’t know about that, either, that this is being exposed — that was February of this year, and it’s just being exposed here now? So the untold harm that these companies are creating, in terms of the hatred that they’re stimulating — and Iraqis don’t distinguish between those people who are Americans in uniform or out of uniform, and very often, by the way, it looks like a uniform that they’re wearing. This is actually helping to recruit more of the terrorists, more people who hate the United States of America. This is counterproductive in every way, except to these companies that are now, because of U.S. taxpayer dollars, reaping billions of dollars for their companies.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Jan Schakowsky, I wanted to read to you a piece, from Jeremy Scahill’s piece, that is coming out in The Nation magazine on the bill, on your SOS bill. Of course, SOS, “Stop Outsourcing Security.” He says, “The SOS bill is by far the most hard-hitting legislation to target private forces in Iraq, but it’s not without its problems. While Schakowsky understands this issue better than most in Congress, there’s a potential loophole in the bill that could unwittingly aid the permanent expansion of the war machine.” And he says, “Calling for the government to take over from Blackwater, Triple Canopy and Dyncorp, rather than addressing the State Department’s already-massive paramilitary force in Iraq, could amount to de facto support for what is already a dramatic unprecedented militarization of the Department’s Diplomatic Security Division by the White House. The department’s worldwide personnel protection program was originally envisioned as a small-scale bodyguard operation tasked with protecting small groups of US diplomats and other officials in countries around the world. In Iraq, the administration has turned into a paramilitary force several thousand strong. Spending on the program jumped from $50 million in 2003 to $613 million in 2006.” Your comment on this?
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I understand what Jeremy, who has done an amazing job with his book about Blackwater — I understand what he’s saying, but I’m a founding member of the Out of Iraq Caucus. I think we should be getting out of there entirely. But we certainly don’t, at the same time as this war proceeds ahead, help build this private mercenary army and aid and abet these companies. I think it — he absolutely has a point, but I think that what we want to do is get out of Iraq, get a new administration, have a diplomatic surge rather than a surge of war all over the globe. The world’s on fire right now because of this administration. So I want to deal with that issue, too, but I think that having these private companies being funded at the rate they are by taxpayers is absolutely against our interest over the long term.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Schakowsky, I want to ask you about another issue. Front page of The Hill this week: ”GOP Turns Impeachment Resolution Against Dems” about Kucinich’s motion on Cheney, forces procedural fight. “House Republicans [on Tuesday] nearly forced Democratic leaders to vote on a resolution to impeach Vice President Cheney. [The] anti-war presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich” — your colleague from Ohio — “introduced a privileged resolution, used to circumvent the committee process, to get his impeachment measure to the House floor. The vote to kill Kucinch’s privileged resolution began as a largely party-line affair, but halfway through the vote, [Rep. John] Shadegg (R-Ariz.) persuaded Republican leaders to get rank-and-file GOP lawmakers to change their votes to force the debate.” Tell us what’s happening here. Are you for impeachment?
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I signed on, after giving it about 10 seconds’ thought, to Dennis’s resolution to impeach Dick Cheney. But here is the question for progressives who believe that Dick Cheney should be impeached: Do we want to have that vote? And, actually, I wanted to have that vote. You know, I voted in favor of having that vote. Do we want to have a vote, though, that loses overwhelmingly? That’s the fear. And that was what the Republicans were essentially saying: “Fine. Go ahead. Have your vote and see how many actually would have voted for the impeachment resolution.” I think it actually would have been pretty much of a handful of us who have signed on as co-sponsors, and I’m just not sure that it would have advanced our cause. They knew that.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the impeachment of President Bush?
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, we certainly don’t want to impeach President Bush without impeaching Cheney. I think that many of the most drastic and radical of the actions taken by this administration — I think Dick Cheney would have no hesitation, for example, to go in and bomb Iran. So, having Cheney as the president in the interim — now, if we did both and Nancy Pelosi were the president of the United States and that were actually feasible in the next year, I would be all for that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Congressmember Jan Schakowsky, Democratic congressmember from Illinois.
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I want to thank you, Amy, for all the important messages that you’re getting out that counter some of the propaganda that we hear from the other side, so thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Schakowsky has introduced the Stop Outsourcing Security Act, known as the SOS Act, that would phase out the use of private military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders has done the same thing in the Senate.