In the midst of our country trying to sort out this war, including the funding and the ever-increasing reliance on war contractors, I read on a blog about a disturbing story from a woman who had spent two years as a contractor in Kuwait. When she stopped at a rest stop in Pennsylvania, a stranger found out that she had been an Iraq war contractor employee, the other woman spit on her. This brings up nightmares of what happened to our deeply divided country after the Vietnam War.
There are many reasons that Americans have decided to work for war contractors in Iraq. Some need the money for mortgages or medical bills to support their families. Others want an adventure as a relief from their mundane jobs. Many do it for patriotic reasons and a small group does it for greed. In the course of researching my book, Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War, I interviewed and profiled many contractor employees. I found that most of them really did want to help their country and were very unhappy with what they saw their contractor employers were doing in Iraq. Some saw their contractor employers overcharge the Army for services poorly rendered, which lead to bad food, polluted water and lack of supplies and services for our troops. Others saw contractors refusing to send their employees in to dangerous zones, leaving soldiers without even the most basic supplies because the Army did not have any backup system when the contractor said no. Many became disillusioned and came home to have their contractor employers replace them with exploited foreign nationals. Men hired as private security contractor employees told me that their employers instructed them to terrorize local Iraq civilians in order to get truck convoys through the towns. There now are a plethora of lawsuits by contractor employees outlining these abuses and abuses to the contractor employees.
And, along with honoring our fallen soldiers, we need to also honor those who did go to Iraq as contractor employees and lost their lives too. As mentioned in a recent New York Times story, truck drivers who worked for contractors in delivering supplies to the troops, had one of the highest death rates among contractor employees. Unlike the Army truck drivers that preceded them in earlier wars, these truck drivers were prohibited from carrying guns. Without the ability to defend themselves, they sometimes faced the insurgency with not enough security and their lives at stake. One truck driver watched in horror when the Army escorts were drawn off to fight the insurgents and some insurgents came back and pulled his fellow contractor truck drivers out of their cabs and executed them. It was another illustration to show that contractors don't work in a hostile battlefield.
The American public needs to get angry with the contractors who took advantage of this war spending with little oversight and the Pentagon who allowed the contractors to get into a situation where the Army had no choice but to pay and rely on them for vital war materials. It is now time for the Congress and the press to sort this mess out and put in safeguards for the taxpayers and the soldiers. The public needs to channel its anger over the contractor abuses towards the institutions that can change the situation, not to the contractor employees who also were often the victims.
For more information on this subject, you can go to my Follow the Money Project website.