It was bound to happen. There’s no way hundreds (Thousands? Who knows?) of mercenaries can ricochet around Iraq without eventually butting heads with the U.S. military.
Sixteen private American security guards are under investigation for shooting at U.S. Marines and Iraqi civilians during a three-hour spree west of Baghdad, the military said Thursday.
The Marines said the 16 Americans and three Iraqi contractors were arrested and held in a military jail for three days after spraying small arms fire at Iraqi civilians and U.S. forces from their cars in Fallujah late last month. There were no casualties.
Marines spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Lapan said Marines reported seeing gunmen in several late-model trucks fire “near civilian cars” and on military positions.
“Three hours later, another Marine observation post was fired on by gunmen from vehicles matching the description of those involved in the earlier attack,” Lapan said.
U.S. forces later detained the contractors without incident and held them in a military jail for three days. The American contractors are thought to have left Iraq, the military said. A Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry is under way.
And guess what: the mercenaries don’t like being treated like Iraqi civilians.
A group of American security guards in Iraq have alleged they were beaten, stripped and threatened with a snarling dog by US marines when they were detained after an alleged shooting incident outside Falluja last month.
“I never in my career have treated anybody so inhumane,” one of the contractors, Rick Blanchard, a former Florida state trooper, wrote in an email quoted in the Los Angeles Times. “They treated us like insurgents, roughed us up, took photos, hazed [bullied] us, called us names.”
Mark Schopper, a lawyer for two of the contractors, told the newspaper that his clients, both former marines, were subjected to “physical and psychological abuse”. He said they had told him that marines had “slammed around” several con tractors, stripped them to their underwear and placed a loaded weapon near their heads.
“How does it feel to be a big, rich contractor now?” one of the marines is alleged to have shouted at the men, in an apparent reference to the large sums of money private contractors can make in Iraq.
Lieutenant Colonel David Lapan, a Marine Corps spokesman, who did not respond to emails from the Guardian, said in an email to the LA Times: “The Americans were segregated from the rest of the detainee population and, like all security detainees, were treated humanely and respectfully.”
According to Peter Singer, a Brookings Institute scholar and author of the book Corporate Warriors, private military contractors in Iraq are operating in a black hole as they do not fall within the military chain of command. “What appears to have happened here is tension between forces bubbling to the surface,” he told the Guardian.
But he said the incident also raised the question of what happens to contractors if they are caught doing something wrong, such as firing on civilians, as their legal status is not defined. “If the marines think [the contractors] did do something illegal there is no process they can go through. Who are they going to hand them over to?” Mr Singer said. “There have been more than 20,000 [contractors] on the ground in Iraq for more than two years and not one has been prosecuted for anything.”