Fighting a Parallel War in Iraq
CJaye | December 17, 2008 at 09:59 amby
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Fighting a Parallel War in Iraq, Private Contractors Are Officially Invisible Even in Death
US Airways Flight 1860 eased into Gate 4 at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, the pilot's voice came over the intercom: "Can I please have your attention? We are carrying with us tonight the remains of a fallen American in Iraq. Please remain seated for the movement of the remains and for the American escorts to deplane". The cabin fell silent. No one moved as the two men seated in the first row rose to gather their belongings. They were the white-gloved master sergeant who had accompanied Jonathon Coté's body from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and the American drug enforcement agent who, after a 16-month search, had recovered the headless corpse in southern Iraq. The two men were led down to the tarmac, and the master sergeant climbed up into the belly of the plane. He draped an American flag over the silver casket and made sure that Coté's body was placed feet-first on the conveyor belt. There was a light drizzle, the temperature at 40 degrees. A bitter wind blew off Lake Erie, snapping a half-dozen flags held by members of the Patriot Guard Riders of New York, a biker group that supports the families of fallen Americans. Police flashers and a Buffalo TV crew's equipment threw light and shadows over the plane. From the ground you could see the passengers, still frozen in their seats in the lighted cabin, and the baggage handlers, waiting off to the side in fluorescent orange vests and knitted caps. Steve Fainaru stood with Jon's family beneath the wing, buffeted by the freezing wind. Five men and one woman from New York's 107th Air National Guard lifted the casket from the belt and slowly marched it across the tarmac to an idling hearse. Anyone watching might have thought they were witnessing the somber homecoming of an American hero killed in Iraq. That was technically true: Jonathon Coté had fought in the U.S. Army. He was killed in Iraq. But it was far more complicated than that. Coté and the four others that worked for that worked for Crescent Security had been kidnapped. Franco Picco, the owner of Crescent Security Group, called from Kuwait. The sound of Picco's thick South African accent hit Francis, Cote's father in the gut. Picco told him he was "expecting good news." He said he had sources whom had seen Jon and the other four men alive. He said he couldn't be more specific. He left the impression that their nightmare would soon be over. Days passed, then weeks, and then months the Cotés never heard from Picco again. Once Jon and the other four men went missing, Crescent Security suspended their pay, as if they had taken unauthorized vacations or several months of undocumented sick leave. For Coté, a college student, it didn't mean as much, the others had dependents, including children. Nancy Coté was outraged by the apparent lack of urgency surrounding her stepson's case. Using her contacts inside the DEA, she prodded the government to quietly change its tactics. Nearly a year after the kidnapping, the DEA put its own man on the case. Unlike the FBI, the agent, who had no previous experience with kidnappings, embedded himself in southern Iraq. Weeks passed, and soon the bodies themselves were handed over. On April 24, 2008 after the remains of the other Crescent hostages had been recovered, four cars pulled up in front of the Cotés red-brick house in suburban Buffalo. It was a bright spring day. The agents walked through the kitchen and sat down at a patio table on the deck outside with Francis, Nancy and Jon's older brother Chris. A female agent with long red hair looked directly at Francis. She told him that tests had been completed on the last body and it had been determined that it was "your son, Jonathon Coté." The official American death toll in Iraq that day was 4,047. The number did not change when Jon's body was identified. Five years into the Iraq war, the private security contractors weren't counted, alive or dead, even though hundreds and perhaps thousands had perished. It was an ugly business he had gotten himself into, perhaps the ugliest business there is. The U.S. government had fostered it, a manifestation of our failures in Iraq, a method for shifting responsibility and hiding the human toll. The private security contractors helped confine the war to the margins of our consciousness. Tens of thousands of shadow soldiers, their roles and identities as murky as the war itself. You didn't have to draft them, or count them, or run them by Congress. You didn't even have to know they were there. On May 2, 2008 - 800 people crammed the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Williamsville, N.Y., for Coté’s funeral. The crowd included more than a dozen members of his platoon from the 82nd Airborne, several fraternity brothers from the University of Florida, friends and relatives from around the country. Not a single representative of Crescent Security Group was there. The employment of private contractors hides the true costs of war. Their dead aren't added to official body counts. Their duties and profits are hidden by closemouthed executives who won't give details to Congress as their coffers and roles swell. Although Jon was not in the armed forces at the time he was killed, he was again serving our country in this war. There are several Private Security Companies working in Iraq. American or not these men are not being counted for the service they have provided of protection in the this Bush induced war. 99% of these men are former military . All of the men and women are casualties of war.Fainaru, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in 2007 about the role of private security forces in the Iraq war.
Source from: "Big Boy Rules: America's Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq" (Da Capo Press, 2008)http://tinyurl.com/6l2ah7
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