end of the month miscellany
Some coincidences: (1)I've discussed Iraqi contractors at HZ before, here:
"Are they EVER called mercenaries?" May 2006
"30 per cent off the top" May 2004
and (2) Later in the day Karena wrote back to me regarding my plans to go to Iraq, and told me about Jane Stillwater, another blogger who did in fact go to Iraq, and was sponsored by a Texas newspaper. (In fact, she just got back.)Karena writes:
she tried for a year to get to Iraq and finally The Lone Star Iconoclast, the Crawford, TX newspaper, sponsored her. They did not pay her, but they paid her expenses and most important, they gave her a press pass. Before that, she was not considered a "legitimate" press person because she wrote opinion instead of fact, but with the press pass she got in.
I'd never heard of Jane Stillwater before. I just visited her blog, and here's something from an item from last week, in which she interviews an (ex)Iraqi contractor and evidently discusses the same article Rob references:
"After four months living in a tent pitched over an old bombed-out bunker, blood and pus started coming out of my eyes. It really scared me and I tried to get back to the states to get treated. But the moment I left Iraq, KBR canceled my health insurance. I used to be able to hang 160 sheets of drywall a day. Now I can hardly help the neighbors move their front room couch."the rest is here:
The contractor was very unhappy with KBR. "They promised me that I was going to get a COBRA but it never came through. I need an operation, I have severe nerve damage in my arms. I don't sleep because my hands and arms are so sore. I can take a lot of pain but this is constant. This is too much. If I ever get my hands on the KBR employee who canceled my insurance, they'd have to put me on four-way restraints!"
The contractor has lost three inches off of his biceps. What happened over there? Depleted uranium? "I wouldn't be surprised. Iraq is the most polluted country in the world. It scares the hell out of me." Then he added, "I think part of my nerve damage comes from wearing 56 pounds worth of body armor for 12 or 15 hours at a time because rather than up-armor the trucks, they up-armored the drivers."
He thought that the KBR operation was a circus run by buffoons. "They were only in it for the money."
"Do you think you will ever go back to Iraq?" I asked him. "I can't go back. I'd never pass the physical." He then gave me the names and numbers of several friends who had suffered the same experience. Scary.
After I got done talking with the contractor, I biked downtown to get a copy of the Berkeley Daily Planet, featuring an article about the Blackwater mercenaries. Even MORE scary! According to reporter Jeremy Scahill, "In February 2006 Donald Rumsfeld issued the Pentagon’s quadrennial review which lays out the Pentagon’s vision for years to come. There he classified Blackwater and other contractors as a legitimate part of the total force making up the U.S. war machine." So. The neo-cons are hopefully anticipating the day when they can contract out our entire Army -- not just the quartermaster department and the KP. I wonder if the troops know about this?
"Blackwater mercenaries, West Point graduates & other contractors' tales"