Reining in U.S. Rent-a-Rambos

Scandal has shone the light on America’s dirty little secret armies in Afghanistan and Iraq wars

A fascinating scandal has erupted in Washington that is exposing the sordid underbelly of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

According to a New York Times investigation and a torrent of Washington leaks, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies fielded covert mercenary networks in Afghanistan, Pakistan (a.k.a. "Afpak") and Iraq to murder tribal militants and nationalists opposing western occupation.

U.S. law forbids murder or using mercenaries. But, as Cicero said, "Laws are silent in times of war."

A former senior Pentagon official specializing in murky foreign operations, Mike Furlong, set up a company, International Media Ventures (IMV), to supposedly provide the U.S. military with "cultural information" about Afghanistan's Pashtun tribes. Codename: Operation Capstone.

Two obscure, Orwellian Pentagon outfits, the Cultural Engineering Group, of Florida, and Counter-Narcoterrorism Technology Program, of Virginia, funded Furlong with $24.6 million.

Furlong hired a bunch of former special forces types and assorted thugs. These rent-a-Rambos' real mission was to allegedly assassinate Pashtun leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and target tribal compounds for strikes by U.S. Predator drones. Another heartwarming example of free enterprise at work and how to win Muslim hearts and minds.

In short, a 2010 version of the Mafia's contract killers, known as "Murder Inc."

Thickening this plot, retired CIA types, including the flamboyant Dewey Clarridge, whom I well recall from the 1980s Afghan war, were reportedly involved. IMV's CEO came from major defence contractor L-3, long involved in top secret operations.

Add into this stew a money-hungry former news director of a major TV network who had me blacklisted in 2003 on the demand of the Bush White House because of my warnings that Iraq would be a disaster.

It is uncertain if Furlong's Murder Inc. had time to go operational. But its exposure is causing a huge ruckus. In best U.S. government tradition, the Pentagon has cut Furlong adrift. He is now under criminal investigation.

Shades of CIA agent Ed Wilson, whose frightful case I long followed. Wilson was set up as a deniable "independent" by the CIA to supply arms and explosives to Libya and Angola. When this intrigue blew wide open, Wilson was kidnapped by U.S. agents, convicted on the basis of lies by the government and buried alive in federal prison.

The Furlong scandal comes at a time of growing criticism of the U.S. government's use of more than 275,000 mercenaries (a.k.a. "private contractors") in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. These hired gunmen and logistics personnel operate without any accountability, legal structure or oversight.

Private mercenary firms like Xe (formerly Blackwater) and DynCorp have raked in fortunes running private armies for the U.S. They are major donors to the far right of the Republican Party. Deeply worried civil libertarians call these private armies potential, 1930s-style Brownshirts.

Amazingly, U.S. Special Forces in Afpak have not until this month been under the control of supreme commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. They apparently reported to his rival, Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus in Tampa. These Rambos have been rampaging around, killing at will and committing atrocities against civilians, the UN reports.

To the Pentagon's fury, the CIA runs its own killer paramilitary units and drone assassination operations, 90% of whose victims are civilians, according to Pakistani media investigations.

The CIA's paramilitaries report only to Langley, which does not talk to the Pentagon. Pakistan's feeble government is not even informed in advance of Predator strikes and assassinations on its own soil.

How many of the 15 other U.S. intelligence agencies are running their own little illegal private armies? Add special forces from NATO contingents, including Canada, whose operations remain a deep secret.

The U.S. brands all al-Qaida suspects and Taliban "illegal combatants," denying them due process of law and the Geneva Convention's prisoner protections. It's OK to murder and torture such "terrorists," says Washington.

What, then, about the army of U.S. mercenary Rambos that are running amok, who wear no uniform, kill at will and have no legal oversight?

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© 2023 Eric Margolis