There are a number of bigger stories implicated in that awful, awful tale of carcinogens, carelessness and betrayal.
Here’s a critically important one (and pressing, god knows) that no one seems to want to talk about: what happens to the law and to ‘justice’ when non-military personnel substitute for the real thing.
The history of warring and war institutions is so old that there’s no shortage of understanding on their part of the critical necessity for a portable code of laws and behavior that accompany warriors wherever they go. Otherwise, chaos overtakes the chaos and there’s no way for the aims of a ‘decent’ warring party to survive. If anyone can ignore an order, if lesser soldiers can order around or kill superior officers, if civilians can be considered target practice, the warring system breaks down (yes, universally, wouldn’t that be nice? Yeah, but we’re nowhere near that evolved yet.)
An iron-clad chain of command is absolutely necessary, and life-and-death responsibilities are assigned up and down that chain. The penalties for ignoring or flat out breaking the military codes can result in the penalty of death. It’s the only way that utter madness can be avoided in theaters of war.
And the proof of that is seen when the chain is broken, and madness is what we’ve been seeing in Iraq. It’s broken by inserting tens of thousands of business people, contractors, with responsibilities only to the home office, into the theater, side-by-side with soldiers. In the case of the facility overrun with hexavalent chromium, a commanding officer could easily be submitted for court-martial or worse–sentenced to prison–if he knowingly put the lives of his men in jeopardy. This appears clearly to be a case of those Indiana soldiers being put in that position.
I’m sure there are plenty of Bushies who’d say that no one was more likely to know carcinogenic chromium was present than KBR’s people. My point is that there’s no need, by way of their own consciences, professionality or the law, for them to protect soldiers or civilians. There are no obvious priorities built in anywhere. And from a day-to-day psychological perspective, it potentially gets worse: contractors may have absolutely nothing in common even with their own soldiers. They and their motivations and behavior may be as foreign as the attendant Iraqi civilians themselves, and everybody knows how well they’ve been treated.
There are something like100,000 contractors or more in Iraq, 10 times what there were in Gulf War I. Most of those are actually Iraqis hired by foreign firms, and most of those are probably American. Plenty of those contractors have died. They’ve also famously committed unspeakable acts over and over again, but no immediate law applies. It takes a hell of a lot of controversy and publicity, congressional hearings, and then, perhaps, some DOJ professionals scouring federal codes before anyone can or will bother with ‘justice.’
The lowliest of contractors has the right to do what only the worst of Generals could even dream of. The soldier gets locked up or even potentially hanged, the contractor gets returned to the states. It may not sound liberal at first, but it matters a hell of a lot whether we are a ‘decent’ warring party.