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Blackwater security contractors in Iraq have been involved in nearly 200 “escalation of force” incidents in Iraq since 2005, including several previously unreported killings of Iraqi civilians, congressional investigators reported this week.

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Blackwater security contractors in Iraq have been involved in nearly 200 “escalation of force” incidents in Iraq since 2005, including several previously unreported killings of Iraqi civilians, congressional investigators reported this week. Blackwater has been under intense scrutiny since a recent shootout in Baghdad that left at least 17 Iraqis dead. That incident, it turns out, was hardly an isolated one. The firm’s 1,000 employees have engaged in “frequent and extensive” use of force, the report said, usually without provocation. Blackwater, along with the State Department, is also accused of covering up several ugly incidents, including the 2005 murder of an Iraqi bodyguard by a drunken Blackwater employee.

Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, testifying before a House subcommittee, cautioned against a “rush to judgment.” Prince acknowledged that mistakes had been made, but said Blackwater was being unfairly demonized. “They call us mercenaries,” said Prince, “but we’re Americans working for America protecting Americans.”

This is what you get for trying to contract out a war, said the San Francisco Chronicle in an editorial. The White House didn’t want to face the “political risks” of deploying the massive number of troops truly needed in Iraq. So at least 160,000 private contractors were brought in—cowboys with no accountability and “no incentive to win hearts and minds.” Now it’s obvious that they are “undermining the U.S. effort in Iraq.”

And getting rich in the process, said The New York Times. Blackwater was making less than $1 million a year in federal contracts back in 2001. But since the Bush administration came to power, it has raked in more than $1 billion, mostly in “lavish no-bid contracts.” Is it a coincidence that Blackwater’s Prince has donated $225,000 to the GOP in recent years, or that his sister raised $100,000 for Bush-Cheney in 2004? Congress should investigate those contributions, and look into the broader issue of America’s reliance on these guns for hire.

But let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water, said Max Boot in the Los Angeles Times. It’s easy to dismiss these private security forces as “men in black” who sell their killing skills to the highest bidder. But in truth, most are talented, patriotic, and responsible ex-soldiers, and they’re helping America win this war. Are some of them overaggressive? “Of course. But so are some soldiers.” Until and unless we’re willing to vastly expand our conventional army, we’re going to need them all.

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