A little-publicized US Naval Academy conference named after Senator
John McCain and bankrolled by his wealthy wife, Cindy, issued a call
earlier this year for the US government to ban the use of armed private
security contractors like Blackwater in US war zones, stating bluntly,
"contractors should not be deployed as security guards, sentries, or
even prison guards within combat areas."
"[T]he use of deadly
force must be entrusted only to those whose training, character and
accountability are most worthy of the nation's trust: the military,"
reads the executive summary of the U.S. Naval Academy's 9th Annual McCain Conference on Ethics and Military Leadership,
which was held in April at the Annapolis Naval Station. "The military
profession carefully cultivates an ethic of ‘selfless service,' and
develops the virtues that can best withstand combat pressures and thus
achieve the nation's objectives in an honorable way. By contrast, most
corporate ethical standards and available regulatory schemes are
ill-suited for this environment."
In 2001, Cindy McCain, who may be worth as much as $100 million, first endowed the McCain conference "in honor of her husband" with a $210,000 gift that was specifically intended
to fund conferences that would "bring together key military officers
and civilian academics responsible for ethics education and character
According to the Fall 2009 newsletter, "Taking Stock," published by the US Naval Academy's Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership-the
host of the McCain Conference-among the speakers at the 2009 event was
none other than Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater. Prince's company
is the most infamous of those engaged in the type of armed activity
explicitly condemned by the conference's leadership.
The executive summary released by the McCain conference was recently highlighted in a report
completed on September 29 by the Congressional Research Service on the
use of private contractors. That report said that the US is "relying
heavily" on armed contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan and suggests
their use could continue to rise. The report also states that
misconduct and the killing of civilians by armed security contractors
"may have undermined U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and
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Despite the fact that the McCain conference, which
publicly advocated against the use of armed contractors in combat areas
bears Sen. McCain's name and was bankrolled by his wife, when it has
come to making this a major issue on Capitol Hill, the Arizona Senator
has been largely silent. In 2007, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Jan
Schakowsky introduced the Stop Outsourcing Security Act,
which sought to do precisely what the McCain conference called for two
years later: to ban the use of mercenaries in US war zones. McCain did
not endorse or co-sponsor that legislation, which would certainly have
benefitted from his support (neither
did then-Senator Barack Obama). Responding to a reporter's question on
the campaign trail in July 2008 about whether he believed that US
troops and not private guards should protect US diplomats in Iraq,
McCain said, "I'd like it, but we don't have enough. Yes, and I'd love to see pigs fly, but it ain't gonna happen."
McCain campaign hired people with deep ties to the mercenary industry
to work on his presidential bid. Among these was senior strategist,
Charlie Black, whose firm BKSH & Associates worked for Blackwater's
owner Erik Prince, helping to guide Prince through his appearance on
Capitol Hill in the aftermath of the September 2007 Nisour Square
massacre in Baghdad. McCain also brought on as a senior foreign policy
advisor Richard Armitage, the former deputy Secretary of State. After
leaving the government, Armitage served as a senior adviser for Veritas
Capital from 2005 to 2007. Veritas owns the mercenary giant DynCorp,
which holds billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan security and
Moreover, the International Republican Institute, which has deep ties to McCain, hired Blackwater
as its private security force in Iraq, paying Blackwater an average of
more than $17 million a year since 2005 for security services,
according to records.
As the Obama administration weighs a
substantial troops increase in Afghanistan, leading Democrats and
Republicans are calling for an expanded role for US trainers for the
Afghan military, which will mean more business for private contractors.
Blackwater continues to play a central role in the CIA's drone bombing
program in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which vice president Joe Biden and
others are suggesting should intensify. At present, there are 74,000
contractors on the DoD payroll in Afghanistan-roughly 10,000 more than
the number of US troops. Thousands of other contractors work for the US
State Department and other agencies.
The McCain conference
raised questions about "the privatization of combat support functions,"
including intelligence collection and analysis, as well as
"advising/training for combat." It concluded, "In irregular warfare
environments, where civilian cooperation is crucial," barring the use
of armed contractors "is both ethically and strategically necessary."