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The War Nerd / December 8, 2008

For the next week I’m going to try blogging every day. Things have just been happening too fast for the occasional article. Every day there’s something I want to talk about, and that’s how I’m going to do it.

Today’s big news, or comedy skit, however you want to call it, was the news that five Blackwater guards have been indicted on Federal charges of manslaughter and using a machine gun in the commission of a crime. No joke I could make about this could top that great line from Apocalypse Now: “Shit, charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.”

The Blackwater guys are on trial because they messed up in a big way in a place the Iraqi government actually cared about, at a time when the Iraqis were already massively pissed at the occupation. They’re a sacrifice to Iraqi-US relations: “Here, take these five steroid-casualty overpaid hicks and stop making us look bad with yer bellyachin’!” You can’t exactly say they didn’t do anything wrong, but you can say what they did was SOP for the time and place.

On September 16 2007 A Blackwater guard heard a backfire or felt threatened or was just in a bad mood or  something while escorting a State Department convoy through Nisoor Square in Baghdad. The guards were nervous because there’d been a car bombing about an hour before. So this Blackwater guy did what came naturally: shot and killed a kid driving toward the square. The trouble with shooting the driver is that the car keeps moving. That made the Blackwater mercs nervous, so they all started shooting at anybody they saw.

Let Black Water hang?

That happened a lot in Baghdad in those days, but this wasn’t Sadr City, this was Nisoor Square, and the people who died included a doctor, a med student, a car dealer (OK, nobody was complaining about him) and a couple of government people with serious connections in al-Maliki’s administration. It was like those weddings that NATO loves to bomb in Afghanistan: you can get away with vaporizing some white-trash wedding in the sticks, but when we blew up a wedding of Hamid Karzai’s own kin a few years back, the Afghans were seriously annoyed. I mean, fun’s fun, but you have to know who you can safely blast and who you can’t.

Blackwater tried to stonewall, naturally, but they’d done this shit just once too often. Even by Baghdad standards they had a bad rep: incompetent trigger-happy illiterate rednecks—and damn it, they get paid too much for it! Lotta jealousy from lower-paid hitmen.

Blackwater is in its own little steroid-shooting, wild-west, overpaid boondoggle world. They’ve got their fancy HQ with its old Deadwood style gate with the sign on it, “Enter at your own risk,” although the biggest risk for Blackwater guys is dying like Lyle Alzado from all the shit they inject into their biceps, or falling over with clogged arteries from all the steaks they eat on their ridiculous salaries. Army guys hate these people because they get paid about 20 times what a combat grunt makes to ride around taking pot shots at civilians. If there’s a megamansion going up in the middle of the recession in a Redneck neighborhood, you can pretty much bet it’s the new abode of your local Blackwater vet. (Of course it might be a pot dealer but that’s a much riskier business from what I hear.)

Back when he dropped out of high school he never realized that being dumb, pumped and crazy was the way to riches, but I bet his guidance counselor is ready to admit defeat, now that all the engineers and lawyers are begging on the street and little Johnny who liked to shoot songbirds and torture cats comes back from Iraq with enough loot to buy and sell them all.

So OK, these are not saints. But it’s still ridiculous to charge them with manslaughter, especially since the State Department bureaucrats they were paid to protect are on record telling their Blackwater bodyguards that they had total immunity for anything they did in Iraq. That’s just plain dangerous, telling this kind of guy that kind of thing. I can think of about two-thirds of my high-school PE class who’d kill for fun if they knew they could get away with it. I wouldn’t but that’s only because it’s not sporting, like the Brits used to say. I’ve got standards, see. Most of those feral little fuckers would pay you for a chance like the Blackwater guys had.

And that claim that they used a machinegun to commit their crimes—that’s insane! That’s a statute the feds passed in one of their little fits of screaming about gangsters taking over, and now they’re using it to try guys who were using standard military automatic weapons in the middle of a war zone. The feds are famous for using laws like RICO to get people they were never intended to get. I have a friend of a friend who imported guns for a living; suddenly he was volunteering to teach literacy to gigantic thugs in a federal pen in Kentucky because he didn’t have his licensing forms all filled in right.

There’s no good guys here. Blackwater’s incompetent and mean and stupid—quick, how many of these guys speak Arabic?—but they were doing what they were supposed to do, what these cowardly State suits begged them to do: keep them safe by blowing up any Iraqi who even coughed in the vicinity. Did you know State had to shanghai an entire graduating class of their foreign service academy for Iraq? I love that bit: the prissy bastards thought they were training to sip cocktails, trade quips and get sarcosy with Mrs. Sarkozy, and they find themselves in highspeed convoys hunkered down with buzzcut killers who look like Robert E. Lee’s finest, give or take a hundred pounds of artificial beef. Too bad none of them bought the farm that day.

Well, it won’t be too bad for these five Blackwater guys in stir, if they ever go at all. I’m betting they won’t, but if they do, they’re ready: lots of pumping iron, the gummint feeds you, and you kill the rest of the day sleeping or swapping bullshit kill stories. The only difference is—oh, about $160,000 a year, minimum.

Gary Brecher is the author of the War Nerd. Send your comments to

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Add your own

  • 1. oleg  |  December 8th, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    I actually like Blackwater guys(using the word “like” loosely here). At least they admit that they are killing and maiming for the money. It’s those boneheads that are running around telling everyone that they are “spreading freedom” and “defending Merka” that get under my skin. I’ll take a mercenary over brainwashed do-gooder any time.

  • 2. Lighty  |  December 8th, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Lot of private Brits over there too. Even I know of more guys doing it that way (2) than in the army (0). They give you plenty of guns. Problem is, from what I hear, bits of you start going missing – toes and fingers and things, which can be annoying. Sometimes I’ve vomited up what looked like parts of my body – but they were *inside* bits – and maybe a good thing, some vestigial organ of no use, or surplus stomach lining. When areas of the *outer* body start disappearing then it’s a worry.

    Gary, bought your book. For fuck’s sake, could you please do something on the Falklands. I would *really* like to know your take.

  • 3. abelincoln  |  December 8th, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    Yeah maybe they were given orders to not give a shit about human life but that doesn’t mean they should take some of the punishments their overlords are diplomatically avoiding. Many next time it’ll burn a little farther up if someone starts taking accountability for the freedom jihad.

  • 4. abelincoln  |  December 8th, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    and maybe*. fuck i should read this before posting

  • 5. dave  |  December 8th, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    i believe the picture of that charred body is of Scott Helvenston. youngest man (age 17) ever to become a SEAL. joined blackwater after serving his country with dignity. to bad he ended up like that. heavy is the head….

  • 6. Nestor  |  December 8th, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    The impunity with which US forces open fire is really quite scary. I guess picking the high paid private contractors to be scapegoats is a good idea, let them earn their hazard pay.

  • 7. Health IT Nerd  |  December 8th, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    “It’s the same the whole world over, it’s the poor that get the blame while the rich has all the gravy”

    Daffy Duck. (

  • 8. yabadabadoo  |  December 8th, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    I wish that body was of Dick Cheney instead of some hapless redneck from midwest.

  • 9. Paul  |  December 8th, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    >> Apocalypse Now: “Shit, charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.”

    winning hearts & minds is a complicated biz

    I wonder how many mercs deploy, but don’t get paid. Also, somehow I doubt the merc’s get health insurance and lifetime disability pay as do government grunts. Take a nasty injury, and and suddenly that $160k USD isn’t very exciting.

  • 10. Guy  |  December 8th, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    Problem in missions:

    US: win hearts and minds *ahem*
    Blackwater: keep the client alive.

    Blackwater are very good at what they do, its just that in doing it you step on lots of toes. And by step I mean shoot. And by toes I mean innocents. Still, give them credit, they may be inbred hick motherlovers with six fingers and massive, giant, shiny chrome plated dicks, but at least they get the job done. Which is more than you can say for the State Department.

    I’d vote Gary does the Hussites. Because a one eyed Eastern European (later blind) beating up half the Catholic aristocracy of the 15th century is too awesome to pass up.

  • 11. wengler  |  December 9th, 2008 at 1:14 am

    The family of that guy hanging up there are suing Blackwater for every damn cent and I hope to hell they get it. He was supposed to be guarding VIPs in heavy transports, but Blackwater sent them in Jeeps through Fallujah on the important task of guarding kitchen supplies.

    Blackwater is founded by the ruling family of Michigan Christian fundamentalist rightwing politics and the organization has the classic fundamentalist view of life- to be miserable and to die. Well those are the good fundamentalists. These fundamentalists are better described- to be happy…when killing.

    The only good thing about these fuckers is they aren’t doing things that other US employees are doing in Iraq such as: a) electrocuting US soldiers through faulty wiring b) contaminating US troops with bad water c) using slave labor brought in from Kuwait d) gang raping female contractors. Oh wait, scratch d.

    I can’t wait when Blackwater’s newly minted “maritime support” wing gets pasted by some 14 year old Somali pirate with a RPG.

  • 12. Tam  |  December 9th, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Excellent article. There’s no point giving a dog rabies, then blaming it for being a rabid dog.

    Anyone interested in Blackwater ought to check out the comic book “Special Forces” by Kyle Baker, a vicious, satirical story about the war in Iraq. You mightn’t have heard of it, even if you’re nerdy enough to follow comic books since it’s been getting zilch publicity, but it’s the about the only interesting piece of (western) fiction about the war in any medium so far.

    It’s not perfect but it’s well worth checking out, there’s lots of influence from Joseph Heller there and parodies of the behavior of mercenaries along with the ‘disclaimer’ : ‘The Graywater massacres depicted in this book are fictional and are not intended to represent the mercenaries in Blackwater or their massacres’

  • 13. SpackAttack  |  December 9th, 2008 at 2:34 am

    Yeah, me too Wengler,

    I can’t wait for people to die.

    That’ll show ’em AMIRITE.

    There’s nothing better I like — being a basement-dwelling, hissy-fit throwing faux-peaceful progressive, internet warrior like yourself — than hating on people and wishing them dead.

  • 14. Chris C  |  December 9th, 2008 at 4:54 am

    >For the next week I’m going to try blogging every day.

    I love you Gary.

    Do you need us to supply you with toblerones and cola? Every campaign needs logistics!

  • 15. Soloscarecrow  |  December 9th, 2008 at 6:02 am

    Someone non-ironically defending Blackwater? Now I’ve seen everything.

  • 16. Geo8rge  |  December 9th, 2008 at 6:45 am

    Who are the only two Boer war soldier still remembered. Winston Churchill, and Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant. The Boer War is very similar to Iraqistan. The Brits for some reason needed to cap a British soldier to prove something about the rule of law. So they had a show trial and Morant got the firing squad. It is very much like the Blackwater trial today, except someone forgot about the showtrial part. The show trial of Saddam Hussein didn’t work out so well, so maybe a real one will work out better.

    The problem with the the Blackwater trial is they are actually trying them in civilian court in Utah. Who knows what will happen? If the defense want to be funny they should demand the jurors go to Iraq to have a crime scene walk through.

    I actually think the defense should ask for a religious trial in Qom, Iran. In exchange for making incriminating statements about Americans and Blackwater to the Ayatollahs they will get acquitted. Then the locals could say the SOFA is unnecessary as the Blackwater people were treated more leaniently under Islamic law than US military law.

    Does the change of venue to Utah mean they were mormans?

    Did anyone notice that blackwater means sewage? See what happens when you don’t hire a branding expert.

    What ever happened to that dude that raped the 14 y o Iraqi girl and killed her familly to cover it up?

  • 17. Sam  |  December 9th, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    This is almost too much. I actually worked with an ex-Blackwater guy in Nevada. He’s a geologist, former SEAL and overall a pretty good guy. Granted, he can be pretty ice cold sometimes, but he’s about as intelligent as anybody. And if nothing else, he’s the most reliable guy I’ve met.
    I don’t know what the grudge is about, but sometimes you ought to let these things go.

    I’m not a big fan of what they do. However, the world is an ugly place and they’re trying to make a make a buck like the rest of us.

    What’s worse is that the real criminals, the guys calling these shots and getting thousands killed to make a couple bucks get off scott free

  • 18. Chris  |  December 9th, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    I don’t think a kin-wedding belonging to the family of Hamid Karzai was ever “bombed”. Or are you referring to the incident near Kandahar where DEVGRU operators acting as PSD for the Afghan president unloaded on assassin(s) which unfortunately killed a few relatives/friends of Karzai whom attempted to disarm the assailant(s) and where caught in the killzone?

  • 19. Carsten Agger  |  December 9th, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    It was established in the Nuremberg trials that being ordered to commit crimes against civilians does not exempt you from punishment.

    It follows that the fact that everybody else does it (SOP) also does not exempt you from punishment for killing civilians.

    Gratuitous killing of civilians in the streets of Baghdad should be punished exactly like gratuituous killing of civilians in the streets of New York. And then: Why should *only* these Blackwater guys go on trial? Well, I’d like to see each and every one of the political and military brass be tried for cold-blooded murder of each and every Iraqi civilian killed after April 9, 2003: Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Petraeus … Then, when the big ones are sentenced to the severest punishment in the book, we *might* consider pardoning the grunts. But not before.

  • 20. wengler  |  December 10th, 2008 at 1:21 am

    @ SpackAttack

    If you are an American you should read your history and learn that hating mercs is patriotic. Killing for money attracts a particularly shitty individual. Some of them were desperate for the money like the gentleman hanging above and were lied to by the company by which they found employ, but the leaders of these outfits are all the same money-grubbing fucks they have always been.

    ‘There’s nothing better I like — being a basement-dwelling, hissy-fit throwing faux-peaceful progressive, internet warrior like yourself — than hating on people and wishing them dead.’

    I really don’t wish anyone dead. I hate mercenaries end stop. I understand at some level war is always going to be a business, but when that fact becomes readily apparent, you have no choice but to hate those whose profit is directly correlated to the deaths of tons of people.

    At some point Somalis will come in contact with mercenaries of all stripes. The mercenaries’ government-backed patrons will demand their property be protected at all costs, and mercenaries will start shooting every boat that has an outboard and a black guy on board. There will be no news stories written about the people who die, because no one in power cares. I really don’t know where you are coming from, protect the powerful, or freedom of commerce, or whatever. But when push comes to shove, it’s all just more dead people under the bridge, and personally I am not in favor of mercenaries massacring freely on the high seas.

  • 21. frank cobain  |  December 10th, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    From what I hear, there are a buncha South Africans there too, running amok.

  • 22. Yul Brynner  |  December 11th, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    The regulars do the very same thing, but the mercs are more expendable. There should be thousands of these trials for both, not one.

    But first there should be one for the whole goddamn top of America, like this it is a farce. The very people that have the most to anwser for are going after these – in comparison – lesser criminals.

  • 23. Carpenter  |  December 15th, 2008 at 8:13 am

    First, ten points to Carsten Agger for this comment above: “It was established in the Nuremberg trials that being ordered to commit crimes against civilians does not exempt you from punishment.” I haven’t laughed so hard for a week! You had Western criminals and Soviet criminals prosecuting the Germans for making the mistake of losing the war. Meanwhile the Soviets were killing two German civilians, AFTER the war’s end. And the American G.I.s had their fun machine-gunning German prisoners in freezing open-field camps with no water or food, after they were done strafing civilians for sport from the air. (Love the story of when they strafed American POWs that the Germans had doing labor outside the prison. Oops!)

    Anyway: Blackwater is the tune of the future. The Praetorian Guard of the new Rome, when the Army regulars are demoralized and unreliable in the coming Depression. Mercenaries will be increasingly used not just abroad but at home, like when they were sent to New Orleans.

  • 24. Carpenter  |  December 15th, 2008 at 8:14 am

    That should have been “two million German civilians”. But anyone who believes the Soviets killed less than that, hey, congrats for having a very comfortable view of the world, it’s good for your sleeping habits.

  • 25. Marc with a C  |  January 12th, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    “but they were doing what they were supposed to do, what these cowardly State suits begged them to do: keep them safe by blowing up any Iraqi who even coughed in the vicinity.”

    Ok, I know you’re being hyperbolic, but I think you seriously mischaracterise the average FSO here.

    First of all, most if not all FSOs in Iraq have a basic level of familiarity with Arabic if they are going to spend any time interacting with the population.

    Second of all, FSOs are CIVILIANS. And unlike most other civilian contractors in Iraq, they are almost never allowed to carry guns and were forced to rely on Blackwater to provide them with security once the U.S. Army decided it didn’t want to expend any of its resources on protecting what was- to them, anyway- a secondary mission. You can call them a lot of things, but cowards? I think not.

    “Too bad none of them bought the farm that day.”

    You can sneer all you want at limp-wristed bureaucrats and call them cowards, just remember that 12 FSOs and dependents were killed in the 1998 Africa embassy bombings back when most Americans thought Osama Bin Laden was the dude who managed their local Wendy’s. I was right across the border when it happened. If you’re a career FSO, you’ll spend a hell of a lot more time figuring out how to smuggle some fat, sweating tourist out of the country after he accidentally uninates on a local VooDOo temple than drinking martinis at the Ritz. Unless of course, you’re a Bush donor.

    It’s a tough enough job as it is without having your fellow countrymen sitting stateside rooting for you to get killed.

  • 26. 40wattPlasma  |  May 17th, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    Blackwater sucks because they make it harder for our military to do their job. You know, all the poor kids from the ghetto or in really shitty parts of the south signing up to pay for college and maybe defend their country.

    They get paid shit, get ignored when they come home and have no skin, and never moan about it. Meanwhile these wannabe neo-cons are stepping over the rules of engagement making tons of money and making more iraqis hate white people.

    I don’t feel sorry for people who enjoy war enough to try to make a quick buck off the American tax payer……and yes black water gets a ton of contracts from uncle sam.

    BTW they changed their name and ran away to the west coast.

  • 27. Vomit boy  |  June 8th, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    And why are we in Iraq in the first place? Oh yeh, WMD’s. It couldn’t be so that Exxon-Mobil can get some cheap fucking oil is it? So they can reeeeally fudge pack the American consumer reeeal good? (And on his/her dime too!) Blackwater huh, I wonder how long before they’ll be coming to a town near you? I mean when ever these fucking idiots runnning this Country (The Banks) can’t keep the Titanic floating on bullshit anymore. Or the Chinese decide to shut us off like a light switch by demanding payment for all of our debt they’re holding. Or I think they’d do it by computer..shut down our power grids et cetera. When it all goes to shit and it will. Will American troops fire on Americans? I guess they can get away with it if they were “just following orders”. It seems we hung a few people in Germany at the end of WWII for doing just that…Nuerenberg. I guess it’s OK now though. To do what ever the fuck you want as long as your just “following orders”. I guess it’s the Allowance thing again. I should just let psychopathic killers, corporate fuckwads and greedy cocksuckers be. After all I shoud allow too.

  • 28. stan_in_usa  |  May 10th, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    When martial law comes to America (and it WILL happen) is not the USMC infantryman who will shoot at innocent civilian protesters…its gonna be BLACKWATER rambos.

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