Since that time the families of the victims, Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, Scott Helvenston and Michael Teague, have been seeking to fix blame upon whom ordered two four-men teams consisting of two mercs per SUV, rather than the usual six-man teams (two SUVs with three mercs per vehicle), to escort an executive of "catering" firm ESS from the Jordanian border to Baghdad. One team, Bravo 2, drove around Fallujah, the other team of Zovko, Batablona, Helvenston and Teague,coded-named November 1, took a route right down main street. And the rest, as they say, is history.
We pick up the action in a news story by Joseph Neff of The Raleigh-Durham News & Observer.com:
The Bravo 2 team memos, in emotional, coarse and damning language, placed the blame squarely on Blackwater's Baghdad site manager, Tom Powell.There is a discrepancy here, however. According to Scahill:
"Why did we all want to kill him?" team member Daniel Browne wrote the following day. "He had sent us on this [expletive] mission and over our protest. We weren't sighted in, we had no maps, we had not enough sleep, he was taking 2 of our guys cutting off [our] field of fire. As we went over these things we new the other team had the same complaints. They too had their people cut."
The families of the four men killed in the ambush -- Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, Scott Helvenston and Michael Teague -- sued Blackwater in Wake County Superior Court in an effort to find out what happened. Blackwater countersued the estates of the four men in federal court, successfully arguing for arbitration, in which the proceedings are closed to the public and the investigation of the incident can be much more limited.
Powell, the site manager, left Blackwater shortly after the Fallujah incident. He will not discuss the event while litigation is pending, said his attorney, Clifford Higby of Panama City, Fla. Efforts to reach the other Blackwater contractors for comment were unsuccessful.
[O]n March 24 the company removed [John] Potter as program manager, replacing him with [Justin] McQuown, who, according to the families' lawyers, was far more willing than Potter to overlook security considerations in the interest of profits. It was this corporate greed, combined with McQuown's animosity toward Scott Helvenston, which began at the training in North Carolina, that the families allege played a significant role in the deaths of Helvenston and the other three contractors.So the question is: was McQuown merely taking orders from Powell or was he acting on his own?
The night before he left, Helvenston sent an e-mail to the "Owner, President and Upper Management" of Blackwater, subject: "extreme unprofessionalism." In this e-mail, obtained by The Nation, he complained that the behavior of McQuown (referred to as "Justin Shrek" in the e-mail) was "very manipulative, duplicitive [sic], immature and unprofessional." He describes how his original team leader tried to appeal to Shrek not to reassign him, but, Helvenston wrote, "I think [the team leader] felt that there was a hidden agenda. 'Lets see if we can screw with Scott.'" Those were some of the last words Helvenston would ever write.
Really why should any of us care? What is really at issue is "What is the root cause of those four men's deaths?" Let's turn to an October 24, 2004 story by Neff and co-writer Jay Price for that answer:
Jerry Zovko's contract with Blackwater USA looked straightforward: He would earn $600 a day guarding convoys that carried food for U.S. troops in Iraq.So from my perspective the real villains of this piece are not Tom Powell, Justin "Shrek" McQuown or even Blackwater founder Eric Prince but "free market" fundamentalism and the privatization of essential governmental services, both of which skip hand-in-hand with Christian fundamentalism.
But that cost -- $180,000 a year -- was just the first installment of what taxpayers were asked to pay for Zovko's work. Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., and three other companies would add to the bill, and to their profits.
And let us ask, "What if the Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq that day had had a union and a union stewart and had filed a grevience against McQuown or Powell; or had refused the order on contractual grounds?"
Of course "free market" fundamentalism leaves no room for trade or labor unions. Moreover, every newly hired mercenary, as I understand from reading Scahill's book, is led to believe that he or she has signed an exclusive "personal" contract with Blackwater, though it is merely a company-wide standard agreement. In otherwords, Blackwater is playing their libertarian, free market fundamentalist mercenaries for chumps, true believers and Blackwater CEO Eric Prince is laughing all the way to the bank.
Blackwater, Prince and the mercenary industry in general is playing all us Americans for chumps, for according to a July 4, 2007 news story by LA Times reporter T. Christian Miller. Miller writes that as of that time there are 180,000 civilians, both American and foreign, under contract by the United States government in Iraq mostly engaged in traditional building trades, food service and truck driving duties. However, Miller continues
Don't kid yourself. These "private security contractors" are mercenaries, soldiers-for-hire, who receive the biggest chuck of their inflated salaries from the U.S. government either directly, as praetorians for the U.S. ambassador in Iraq and Afghanistan, or indirectly. Hardly anything "free market" about that arrangement.
But there are also signs that even those mounting numbers may not capture the full picture. Private security contractors, who are hired to protect government officials and buildings, were not fully counted in the survey, according to industry and government officials.
The number of private security contractors in Iraq remains unclear, despite Central Command's latest census. The Times identified 21 security companies in the Central Command database, deploying 10,800 men.
However, the Defense Department's [Gary] Motsek, who monitors contractors, said the Pentagon estimated the total was 6,000.
Both figures are far below the private security industry's own estimate of about 30,000 private security contractors working for government agencies, nonprofit organizations, media outlets and businesses.