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Have you ever been a victim of a crime aboard a cruise ship? If you are willing to discuss your experience, please contact Union-Tribune staff writer Keith Darce at (619) 293-1020 or keith.darce@
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Blackwater in Potrero? No way

UNION-TRIBUNE

April 19, 2007

If there is any career pursuit that we, as Americans, have come to despise, it is that of the military mercenary. Our contempt for war's hirelings has historic underpinnings. British efforts to quell the American Revolution depended heavily on thousands of smartly trained, well-paid Hessians – German-speaking troops who inflicted some of the costliest casualties on George Washington's ragtag army.

Often glamorized as “soldiers of fortune,” mercenary forces will enlist in a cause not out of patriotism but after asking, “What's in it for me?”

Many Americans have felt troubled by the Bush administration's willingness to “outsource” much of the war in Iraq to private contractors. Feeding of the troops, plus certain maintenance and supply operations traditionally undertaken by the military itself, have been consigned to commercial management. Ex-Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld defended the practice as a way to foil what he called “the Pentagon bureaucracy.” When Rumsfeld resigned, the number of civilians employed in Afghanistan and Iraq had reached nearly 100,000 – roughly two-thirds the number of our uniformed troops engaged there.

More recently, the Pentagon has also entrusted a number of highly sensitive security tasks in Baghdad and elsewhere to private hands: to an 8-year-old company called Blackwater. For the first time ever, our U.S. military has relinquished high-risk operations to armed civilians who are answerable to a contract employer, not to the chain of command. Although relied upon to preserve order in specified trouble spots, or to man military prisons such as Abu Ghraib, Blackwater has thus far operated outside the military justice system, its hired hands not subject to courts-martial.

Involvement in quasi-military missions has emboldened this shadowy band to take the next step. Blackwater's original services were limited to training policemen or providing security guards for non-government clients. Now it announces itself ready to help keep or restore peace anywhere in the world.

That was the message its vice chairman, Cofer Black, delivered in February to a Special Operations Forces Exhibition in Amman, Jordan. “We are not simply a private security company,” Black asserted. “We are a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping and stability operations firm which provides turnkey solutions.”

Turnkey solutions? In today's world, this widely reported boast can mean only that Blackwater now sees itself as the ultimate mercenary, hoping to take its brand of militarism wherever the money leads. To those once troublesome “banana republics” of Central America, say? Or why not to Cuba? How convenient it might have been to send a cash-and-carry strike force such as Blackwater into the Bay of Pigs.

The company's main training ground covers some 8,000 acres near an area North Carolina calls its Great Dismal Swamp. Blackwater has recently drawn attention in San Diego because it hopes to convert a square mile of rural Potrero, out along Highway 94, into a West Coast training center.

For reasons not immediately clear, this startling project has gained support in the largely hidden recesses of our county government. But one little matter arouses suspicion. Blackwater's advance agents were dealing with countless people – even retained the services of San Diego's gold-plated government relations agent, Nikki Clay – before anyone deigned to alert the few hundred folk out in Potrero. The would-be intruders have now busied themselves assuring residents of this reliably Republican-leaning rural haven that their intentions are friendly.

But the operation Blackwater intends would be like taking “Evangeline's” forest primeval and turning it over to a Hitler panzer corps. The din of gunfire alone – from eight rifle and three pistol ranges – would reverberate like Coney Island's target concessions on a Sunday afternoon. Since the plan includes a helipad, locals might also expect the 24-hour drone of whirlybirds.

Eventually, county supervisors must rule on this madness. I have confidence in their political good sense to side with fitful constituents.

In early days of freeway construction, California's State Highway Department determined that Interstate 5, then on the drawing boards, should follow the precise path of old Highway 101. This would mean pouring eight lanes of concrete through the heart of every coastal community from Oceanside to Del Mar. Our five county supervisors at first gave the plan unanimous approval.

Then the sky fell. So many north coastal residents stormed the board's next scheduled meeting that several hundred of them couldn't be squeezed in, and loudspeakers were mounted outside. Supervisors quickly reversed their earlier approval of the freeway plan – again by unanimous vote.

Just wait till today's board hears from the back country about Blackwater.


 Van Deerlin represented a San Diego County district in Congress for 18 years.

 


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