And Now For Something Completely Different …
Well, folks, Hollywood has once again stepped up to the plate to deliver an uncannily timely dose of propaganda to the masses. On April 5, just five days after four American, uhmm, ‘civilian contractors’ were dragged through the streets of Fallujah, the Los Angeles Timesran an article by John Horn entitled “The Avengers.” This is how the piece began:
Ready or not (and many in the country seem to be ready), several new films are about violent retribution.
It’s payback time.
For each and every weekend this month, that’s the mantra for a variety of movie characters determined to bring justice to an unjust world. Americans might feel toothless in their real lives, but violent film heroes in “Walking Tall,” “The Punisher,” “Kill Bill Vol.2,” “Man on Fire” and “The Alamo” feel no such powerlessness. Rather than get mad, they get even, and after just two hours of effort, they can truthfully proclaim, “Mission accomplished.”
Yes, my good friends, it’s time get out there and whup some ass! It’s time to teach those Iraqi barbarians a lesson that they won’t soon forget. And Hollywood, as always, has come through in the clutch to pump the masses full of bloodlust and rally support for the carnage that is soon to be unleashed.
How do they do that? How do they manage to always have the right product ready at the right time? It’s almost as if the studios knew long ago, when these films went into production, that the events of the last week would transpire at exactly this time. But that would be impossible, it would seem. Unless, of course, what happened in Fallujah was itself a Hollywood production.
Cast as the leading man was Stephen “Scott” Helvenston, who had bounced around the fringes of Hollywood for years. As has been widely reported, Helvenston, at age 17, became the youngest-ever Navy recruit to complete SEAL training. He remained a SEAL for the next 12 years, and then settled in Oceanside, California, just south of Camp Pendleton. He soon found work as Demi Moore’s trainer on the film “G.I. Jane,” in which he also appeared as a SEAL instructor. He also served as a consultant and stuntman on films such as “Face/Off” and “Three Ninjas,” and he produced a series of workout videos through his company, Amphibian Athletics. More recently, “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett, himself a former special forces operative, cast Helvenston, whom he had known since 1993, as one of the stars of his cable reality series “Combat Missions.” Helvenston also made an appearance on Fox’s ludicrous (even by Fox’s standards) reality show, “Man vs. Beast,” and he had small acting parts on such television series as “Renegade” and “Silk Stockings.”
After all that, Helvenston’s next starring role was on March 31, 2004, when he inexplicably turned up in a burning vehicle on the streets of Fallujah, Iraq, in the very neighborhood where at least 18 Iraqis had been slaughtered by U.S. forces just five days before (though that fact is almost never mentioned in press reports). As an Associated Press release noted, “after years out of the service … the former SEAL had left the comfort of his life in California behind him and headed for Iraq.”
He had apparently done so quite recently, with press reports holding that he had been in Iraq for less than a month. Friends of the fallen commando were quoted as saying that they were not surprised by Helvenston’s sudden return to the military life. According to Mark Burnett, “That’s what, in a time of need, true American warriors like Scott would do.”
Burnett didn’t explain why this particular point in time is such a “time of need.” After all, the Bush administration line for quite some time now has been that the Iraq situation is under control. Where, one wonders, was Helvenston a year ago, when U.S. mercenaries first rolled into Iraq? Better yet, where was he when U.S. troops poured into Afghanistan, allegedly in search of bin Laden? Surely if there were ever “a time of need” for a “true American warrior,” it was in the immediate wake of the September 11 attacks. So it appears to me as though no one has really offered a reasonable explanation for why Helvenston chose this particular time to make a surprise appearance in what is quite likely the most dangerous city in the world for an American to suddenly find himself.
Helvenston was allegedly part of a security detail accompanying a food convoy, but witnesses have made no mention of any food convoy. The only vehicles involved in the incident were the two SUVs carrying the four soldiers-of-fortune. According to the Washington Post, the foursome “were in the dangerous Sunni Triangle area operating under more hazardous conditions – unarmored cars with no apparent backup – than the U.S. military or the CIA permit.” A Los Angeles Times report held that the “victims were in two sport utility vehicles driving through the center of Fallouja’s commercial district about 9:30 a.m.” The rocket-propelled grenade attack occurred, according to the Times, while the vehicles were “stopped at an intersection” in what was described as an “anti-American stronghold.”
One might be tempted to conclude, based on such reports, that Helvenston and his team were sent on a suicide mission, albeit not necessarily knowingly. It is difficult to imagine, after all, that there is any reasonable explanation for why four American mercenaries would be stopped at an intersection, in broad daylight, in unarmored vehicles, in the center of a city that is a hotbed of anti-American sentiment, in the very neighborhood where fresh Iraqi blood was on the ground. The only thing missing, it would seem, were the “Fuck Allah” signs on the sides of the vehicles.
As the Times reported, “U.S. military forces did not arrive on the scene until several hours after Wednesday’s attack.” Some reports suggested that that was because the area was considered too dangerous for U.S. forces to enter. Say what?? The area is considered too dangerous for the U.S. military to enter even with its dazzling array of weaponry and vast pool of manpower, and yet four (relatively) lightly-armed mercenaries had been dispatched to the very center of town?
The Washington Post reported that U.S. officials “suspect that the men were not victims of a random ambush but were set up as targets, which one defense official said suggested ‘a higher degree of organization and sophistication’ among insurgents.” But was it really the Iraqi insurgents who set the men up as targets? Did the people of Fallujah lure the hired guns into the center of the city, or were they deliberately sent there?
An article in Time magazine noted that “the reasons for their decision to drive through such a hostile neighborhood remain murky … Standard operating procedure for security teams like Blackwater’s, according to a former private military-company operator with knowledge of Blackwater’s operational tactics, is never to stop the car in a potentially hostile area.” And yet four highly-trained mercenaries were indeed stopped at an intersection, virtually defenseless, deep in hostile territory. That would seem to suggest that the team did not know that they had been sent into a hostile area.*
Another article in the same issue of Time complained that, “Even by Pentagon standards, military officials were fuzzy about the exact nature of the Blackwater mission; several officers privately disputed the idea that the team was escorting a food convoy.” Chris Bertelli, a spokesman for Blackwater, was quoted as saying, “We don’t know what they were doing on the road at that time.”
If the team’s putative employer, Blackwater USA, doesn’t know what they were doing there, and the team’s actual employer, the Pentagon, doesn’t know what they were doing there, then who exactly does know? Clearly the foursome didn’t decide on their own to take a leisurely drive through downtown Fallujah. Someone had to have given them orders to go there.
A report in the LA Times revealed that as one of the bodies was dragged through the streets, a group of men, “most of them in Western-style clothing, ran alongside and cheered, according to witnesses and officials.” Now that seems rather odd, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t think, after all, that virulently anti-American Shiite and Sunni Muslims would favor Western-style clothing. But I guess they do.
The Times report also quoted a witness as saying, “People were saying that they [the four mercenaries] were CIA.” Apparently that happens quite frequently; according to Time, “Locals often mistake the guards for special forces or CIA personnel.” I can’t imagine where the Iraqi people would get a crazy notion like that.
Time also reported that just “before the vehicles arrived in town, according to eyewitness accounts, a small group of men in masks detonated a small explosive device, clearing the streets and prompting shopkeepers to shutter their doors.” Who were these masked men who cleared a path for the commando team, and how did they know that there were special guests arriving shortly?
Scott Helvenston’s final role/mission was, of course, faithfully recorded on film. And that film was, curiously enough, given massive media exposure, over the feigned objections of the Bush regime and in clear violation of the unspoken ban on showing the American people anything that could possibly be mistaken for an American casualty of war.
All four of the mercenaries had only recently been hired by Blackwater Security Consulting, one of many CIA fronts supplying soldiers-of-fortune to provide ‘security’ in Iraq. Helvenston had reportedly been in Iraq, and on Blackwater’s payroll, for just two weeks. One of his accomplices, Michael “The Ice Man” Teague – a former member of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (aka the “Night Stalkers”), and a veteran of military operations in Grenada, Panama and Afghanistan – had reportedly only worked for Blackwater for two months. Another accomplice, Wesley Batalona, who served for 20+ years as an Army Ranger, had also worked for Blackwater for just two months. According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, “Batalona was unsure whether he wanted to go back to Iraq after a month off on the Big Island from security duty, a relative said. Pearl Batalona, wife of his uncle Jacob, said Batalona did not directly say why he felt that way after two months with Blackwater Security Consulting in Iraq.”
The fourth member of the team, Jerko “Jerry” Zovko, a former Army Ranger with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, had just joined Blackwater a month before the attack, according to his brother, Tom. Zovko left the service in 2001 and found work with a “private security firm [where he] worked in various capacities, sometimes as a bodyguard for celebrities such as diet doctor Robert Atkins,” according to the Baltimore Sun. Brother Tom Zovko said that Jerry guarded “models and movie stars.” Time magazine had him working “as a bodyguard for executives in Dubai.”
All four of the men, like thousands of others like them, operated in the shadowy, secretive world of covert operations. Their own families cannot say with any certainty what kind of ‘work’ the hired guns actually did. Often the families did not even know what part of the world their loved one was in at any given time. At the time of his death, Zovko’s mother thought her son was safe in Kuwait city, at the American Embassy.
The company that employed the mercenaries, Blackwater Security Consulting, is purportedly a non-governmental entity, as are the dozens of other similar operations in the United States. The overwhelming majority of Blackwater’s business, however, comes from government contracts. And the company has such close ties to the Bush regime that it is Blackwater’s men who provide the personal security for Bush’s number-one man in Iraq, Paul Bremer.
Blackwater – based in Moyock, North Carolina, just south of the world’s largest Naval base at Norfolk, Virginia – was formed in 1998 by former Navy SEALS. The company boasts a reportedly state-of-the-art, sprawling training center. According to Time, “the company has trained more than 50,000 military and law enforcement personnel” at its facilities. The LA Times added that those who have trained there “include Special Operations units from nearby Ft. Bragg, the U.S. Coast Guard, harbor security services and the Federal Aviation Administration.” In 2002, the company was awarded a $35.7 million contract to train 10,000 Navy personnel.
Blackwater boasts that its clients “include federal law enforcement agencies, the Department of Defense, Department of State, and Department of Transportation, local and state entities from around the country, multinational corporations and friendly nations from all over the globe.”
“Friendly” nations in this instance is not a reference to nations that have, say, a sterling human rights record. Rather, it is a reference to countries that are “friendly” to the interests of corporate America. Chile, for example, is a “friendly” nation. According to the Guardian, Blackwater has lately been in the business of training and employing former Chilean commandos: “Last month [February 2004] Blackwater USA flew a first group of 60 commandos, many of who had trained under the military government of Augusto Pinochet, from Santiago to a 2,400-acre (970-hectare) training camp in North Carolina.”
According to company president Gary Jackson, Blackwater “scour[s] the ends of the earth to find professionals – the Chilean commandos are very, very professional and they fit within the Blackwater system.” Apparently the Blackwater system does not discriminate against rapists, torturers and assassins.
Elsewhere in the world, Blackwater has “a Defense Department contract ‘to train, equip, and permanently establish a Naval Special Operations Unit in the Azerbaijan Armed Forces,'” according to an Associated Press report. In nearby Iraq, the company employs some 400 ‘security’ professionals. And if all that isn’t enough to keep the company busy, next month Blackwater’s compound will host the World SWAT Challenge, scheduled to air on ESPN.
Blackwater is only one of dozens of private paramilitary firms that have sprung up in the last decade. As USA Today recounted, “After the 1991 Gulf War, the Pentagon, headed by then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, paid a Halliburton subsidiary, Brown & Root Services, nearly $9 million to study how private companies could provide support in combat zones.” And soon after that, as we all know, Cheney resurfaced as the CEO of Halliburton, before later becoming the Vice-President-in-hiding of an administration that seems to have no shortage of work for all the private military companies that Halliburton helped to create.
These companies constitute a rapidly growing and largely unregulated industry that “reaps $100 billion a year worldwide,” according to the News Observer. The elite ‘security’ personnel that work for these firms are paid salaries of up to $25,000 per month. According to both the LA Times and USA Today, some 15,000 of these security workers are currently at work in Iraq, employed by some three dozen private firms. USA Today noted that that makes the mercenaries “effectively the second-largest armed component of the coalition.” The troops of our closest ally, the UK, are outnumbered roughly two-to-one by the soldiers-for-hire.
And who, you may be wondering, foots the bill for all those thousands of well paid mercenaries? The American taxpayers, of course. As the Los Angeles Times noted, “The vast majority of their work in Iraq is government-funded, either through direct contracts with government agencies or indirectly as security for firms that have contracts to help rebuild Iraq … These days, almost every Western organization working in Iraq has private security.”
In other words, a huge percentage of those multi-billion dollar ‘reconstruction’ contracts that Team Bush is handing out will go toward providing ‘security’ for the companies being awarded the contracts. Of course, no one seems to want to talk about why corporations conducting legitimate business enterprises would need their very own paramilitary goon squads to conduct that business.
The private security business “is booming, security experts said, because a surge in violence has come precisely as a flood of contractors is poised to roll into the country now that $8 billion in U.S. contracts have been awarded.” So said the LA Times. And why do you suppose that is? As a general rule of thumb, people do not usually shoot at those who are working to provide for their well-being. They do, however, shoot at those who come to exploit their resources and slaughter their families.
“It was the occupation of Iraq that brought explosive growth to the young industry,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald. In fact, it appears that the planned occupation of Iraq (and of Afghanistan, and of Haiti, and of ??) is one of the principal reasons that the ‘industry’ was created. The purpose of the mercenaries in Iraq, according to the Washington Post, is to “protect U.S. government employees, private firms, Iraqi facilities, and oil pipelines.” Joining Blackwater in pursuing these endeavors are such firms as DynCorp – which provides personal security for Hamid Karzai, the illegitimate head of Afghanistan, just as Blackwater provides personal security for the illegitimate head of Iraq – and the Steele Foundation, which played a key role in the coup that recently deposed Aristide in Haiti.
These private goon squads, noted the LA Times, operate in secrecy and “outside the control of the U.S. military or any Iraqi authority … Their clients, activities and even the names of their employees are largely kept from public view.” The deaths of these secret warriors, needless to say, are almost never reported.
It is impossible to say how many paid mercenaries have been killed in Iraq, but it is safe to say that what happened to the Fallujah foursome was notable only for the manner in which the corpses were treated. It was certainly not the first time, and it won’t be the last time, that ‘civilian’ contractors are ‘murdered’ in Iraq.
The Virginian-Pilot reported that “About 30 contractors have been killed in Iraq since fighting began a year ago.” The LA Times held that “dozens of the heavily armed security workers have been killed since entering Iraq … last April.” A security expert was quoted as saying: “How many private security guys have been killed here? A lot. At least 50, maybe more; there’s been six just this week.” And CNN has reported that Halliburton subsidiary Brown & Root alone “has lost seven employees in Iraq.”
It is hard to see then how the deaths of the four commandos in Fallujah would have been a particularly significant event had it not been turned into one by the media, which certainly had the option of downplaying or even ignoring the story, as has been done so frequently in the past.
Bill Powell wrote the following for Time magazine: “As horrific as the killings were, what happened next would soon be televised around the world, forcing the U.S. military commanders to plan retaliation.” So it’s not that we want to retaliate, you see; it’s that we are forced to. What else are we to do? After all, we can’t let people start thinking that it is okay to kill our paid assassins, can we?
So retaliate we must. And retaliate we will, or so says Time: “According to a senior administration official, [General John] Abizaid [head of U.S. Central Command] called for ‘a specific and overwhelming attack to restore justice’ … The decision by commanders in the field to respond with such force, he added, ‘obviously pleased’ Bush … No one doubted that the military’s response would be massive … In a reflection of the anger the attacks induced, coalition officials said trying to earn the affection of local Iraqis was no longer the objective — at least not when it came to responding in Fallujah.”
It is unclear exactly what the U.S. response will be, but there is sure to be no shortage of blood on the streets of Fallujah. How many women’s and children’s lives are the lives of four hired guns worth? We will soon find out. As the LA Times‘ John Horn said, at the top of this newsletter: “It’s payback time.”
- Dao, James “For God, Country and Wallet: America’s Privatized Armies are Here to Stay,” Sydney Morning Herald, April 3, 2004
- Duffy, Michael “When Private Armies Take to the Front Lines,” Time, April 12, 2004
- Franklin, Jonathan “US Contractor Recruits Guards for Iraq in Chile,” The Guardian, March 5, 2004
- Horn, John “The Avengers,” Los Angeles Times, April 5, 2004
- Kimberlin, Joanne “Three Slain Blackwater Workers Identified,” The Virginian-Pilot, April 2, 2004
- Marbella, Jean “A Life Taken in Iraq, a Job Left Unfinished,” Baltimore Sun, April 3, 2004
- Merelman, Stephen “Insulting End for Ex-Soldier, a Jet-Setting Bodyguard,” News Observer, April 2, 2004
- Powell, Bill “Into the Cauldron,” Time, April 12, 2004
- “Isle Man Among 4 Killed by Iraqi Mob,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 3, 2004
- Price, Jay “Armed Security Business Booms,” News Observer, April 2, 2004
- Priest, Dana and Mary Pat Flaherty “Contractor’s Jobs Involve High Pay, Risk,” Washington Post, April 2, 2004
- Ridgeway, James “U.S. Turns to Mercenaries,” The Village Voice, April 1, 2004
- Rubin, Alissa J. and Esther Schrader “A Secret World of Security in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2004
- Sanders, Edmund “Iraqi Mob Kills 4 Americans,” Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2004
- Schoch, Deborah, Julie Tamaki and Monte Morin “Death Came Brutally to a Man Who ‘Never Quit’,” Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2004
- Squitieri, Tom “Role of Security Companies Likely to Become More Visible,” USA Today, April 1, 2004
- Stockstill, Mason “Fitness Guru Who Trained Stars Among Four Blackwater USA Employees Killed in Iraq,” Associated Press, April 2, 2004
- “Four Slain Contractors In Iraq Were From U.S.,” Associated Press, March 31, 2004
- “NC Firm Was Providing Security for Food Delivery in Iraq,” Associated Press, March 31, 2004
- “Three of U.S. Security Guards Killed in Iraq Identified as Military Veterans,” CNews, April 1, 2004
- “High Pay – and High Risks – for Contractors in Iraq,” CNN.com, April 1, 2004
- “Hollywood Consultant One of Civilian Deaths in Iraq,” Associated Press, April 2, 2004
- “Movie Stuntman Among 4 Civilians Killed in Iraq,” Associated Press, April 2, 2004
- “Friend Remembers a Talented and Smart Scott Helvenston,” Polkonline.com, April 6, 2004
* Stan Goff, writing for From the Wilderness, has claimed that he has received inside information indicating that the mercenary team was supposed to have taken a bypass road around Fallujah, but someone had set up a detour that led them directly into the ambush. It seems rather unlikely, however, that the four men, with some 60 years of combined experience in ‘special operations,’ would have blindly followed an unmanned detour unless they had been specifically instructed to do so. [back]