Death and Democracy

Has ever a company been more appropriately-named than Blackwater? Short of calling it Bloodwater, how better to christen a group whose existence is synonymous with murder for hire? The company’s name change to the non-descript Xe Services LLC is clear indication that they finally caught on to the dark undertones of the handle.


So far, Blackwater’s war crimes have only reached the status of alleged (the murder of 17 Iraqis; smuggling weapons into Iraq that ended up in the hands of Kurdish terrorists; working as a hit squad for the CIA, without the knowledge or approval of Congress .)  Then again, maybe these aren’t crimes after all, because I always heard that crime doesn’t pay—and Blackwater has been paid big time.  The company has been awarded more than $1 billion in government contracts since 2002.


The latest addition to the Blackwater rap sheet is the alleged murder of two Pakistanis by Xe employee Raymond Davis, believed to be working as a CIA contractor.  Davis claims the two men he shot were attempting to hijack his vehicle, while onlookers and family members say the two young men were doing nothing wrong. Chipping in their two cents, authorities point out that Mr. Davis’s gun was illegal and that the (licensed) gun belonging to one of the dead guys was not loaded. Oh, and that Davis attempted to flee the scene after killing the men. And, oh ya, another innocent bystander was crushed to death by the car Davis called in for backup.


Most of the American media is calling this a “tricky” situation, given the precarious relationship the U.S. enjoys with Pakistan.  We need Pakistan’s cooperation and support in maintaining the fight in Afghanistan. Our government is pressuring the Pakistanis to release Davis, claiming he has diplomatic immunity.


As I read these news reports, this situation seems more and more like a microcosm for our entire War On/Of Terror.  To me, Blackwater has long represented everything that is wrong with wars purportedly begun to spread freedom, democracy and the rule of law.  In America, I expect the freedom to stand on the street and not get shot in the back by a foreign mercenary.  Should that happen, however, my survivors get their day in court to attempt to prove wrongdoing on the part of the alleged perpetrator. He has the right to remain innocent until proven otherwise.


So why don’t we see these rights “spreading” to the Middle East? Why is our government’s knee-jerk reaction to demand the release of an accused murderer without a trial?  Do we stand for the rule of law or not?


Granted, the argument could be made that the reason the American government is calling for Davis’s release is because officials don’t believe Pakistan’s democracy is legitimate enough to provide a court system able to conduct a fair trial.  But that’s not what they’re saying: their argument is Davis’s “diplomatic immunity.”


And that is why this debacle is our behavior in the Middle East in a nutshell. It boils down to the question, Do we have a license to kill brown people?  Can we indiscriminately shed blood under the banner of diplomacy?


This is the message we send fledgling democracies: we believe in justice for all over here. It’s no wonder they hate us—not for our freedom, but because we’re hypocrites when it comes to freedom. We don’t really want democracy in the Middle East. We want governments run by one guy hand-selected by us, bought and paid for by us, who is more than happy to give us unrestricted access to his country’s resources in exchange for making him and his family billionaires who hire Mariah Carey to play at their birthday parties.  And time and time again, it is the common people who get screwed.


Except the people are fed up. It’s happening in Egypt, it’s happening in Libya, it’s happening in Iraq.  Look at the Egypt protests—there you had a cut-and-dried dictator that the people overwhelmingly wanted ousted.  And the U.S government stance?


“Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interests in the region: Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel. I would not refer to him as a dictator.” –Joe Biden, PBS Newshour, Jan. 27, 2011


The word from the White House was ‘we are with the protestors.’ But then it was ‘he can stay if there is a dialogue.’ CNN was busy combing the streets of Egypt, looking for someone—anyone—to look into the camera and thank America for its great support of their struggle for freedom. And they couldn’t find them.


But Mrs. Clinton said it best:


“And I also believe strongly that this is in Egypt’s long-term interests, it’s in the interests of the partnership that the United States has with Egypt. So that is what we are attempting to promote and support, because clearly, what we don’t want is chaos.” Fox News Sunday, Jan. 26, 2011


Well, clearly. Obviously we wouldn’t want anything to jeopardize our interests in the region, especially some silly people’s revolution.


OK, so Egypt and Pakistan may be democratically-challenged, but so what? We haven’t invaded either of them lately/yet, so it’s not our job to spread democracy there.  What’s our track record where the tanks are rolling?


Here is an excerpt from Noam Chomsky’s analysis of the 2005 Iraqi elections:


“The United States had to be brought kicking and screaming into accepting elections… The U.S. wanted to write a constitution, it wanted to impose some kind of caucus system that the U.S. could control, and it tried to impose extremely harsh neo-liberal rules, which even Iraqi businessmen were strongly opposed to. But there has been a very powerful nonviolent resistance in Iraq – far more significant than suicide bombers and so on. And it simply compelled the United States step by step to back down… The population simply would not accept the rules that the occupation authorities were imposing, and finally Washington was compelled, very reluctantly, to accept elections. It tried in every way to undermine them. So for example, the independent press was kicked out of the country. Al Jazeera, which is by far the most popular media in the country and most of the region, was simply kicked out on spurious grounds. The U.S. candidate (Allawi) was given every possible advantage: full state resources, access to any television, and so on. He got creamed. Every party, including even the U.S. government’s party, was compelled to put in a plank, just by pressure of popular opinion, calling for U.S. withdrawal, withdrawal of the occupying forces… The U.S. announced at once after the election – in Britain, Blair, Bush and Rice announced at once – that there would be no timetable for withdrawal. It doesn’t matter what the Iraqis want. The U.S. announced right away that the troops would stay there at least until 2007, in fact as far as building military bases to try to keep them there indefinitely. Not to occupy the country, because for that they would much rather have Iraqi mercenary forces… But they have to be there to make sure things stay under control… Of course once the United States was forced into accepting elections, the government and the media immediately pronounced that it was a great achievement of the United States. But it was quite the opposite.”


That was six years ago.  Some of the players have changed, some of the names have changed, but power and money are still the motives behind everything we do in the Middle East.  And why should we expect change from this broken two-party system?   Our new House Speaker was caught literally handing out checks from tobacco companies on the floor of the House.  Our new “hope and change” leader couldn’t even deliver on his promise to shut down torture chamber Guantanamo Bay.


We cannot expect to spread democracy when we don’t even practice it at home. Our democracy has been co-opted by big business—Monsanto. Halliburton.  AIG.  Small wonder then that our government shudders at the idea of Raymond Davis being put on trial, because he doesn’t just represent himself—he represents big business and big government.  To indict him is to indict the whole outhouse.  And big business and big government don’t get indicted.  Case in point: the Wall Street bailout. Still nobody going to jail.


Until we right the ship at home and demand real democracy, we can expect to have no help to give those who cry out for justice in the bloody wake of the Raymond Davises of this world.