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Private armies under fire Print
October 4, 2007 - By Andy Grimm Post-Tribune staff writer

Introduction

As government officials in Iraq and the U.S. Congress are questioning the role and the powers of private security firms in Iraq, a Merrillville man says his days as a mercenary are behind him.

Congress is moving to update a law that has kept Blackwater USA and other private security contractors in Iraq immune to criminal prosecution.

In one case, a drunk Blackwater employee left a Christmas eve party in Baghdad and fatally shot the guard of one of Iraq's vice presidents. The contractor was fired, fined and returned home to the United States; no charges have been filed.

It's cases such as this that have many in Washington calling for greater accountability for these private armies.

Eugene Guernsey, a retired cop, spent a few weeks in Iraq working as a police instructor for State Department security contractor DynCorp in 2004.

Guernsey wondered what companies like DynCorp

were hoping to do even when he was in-country three years ago.

"We weren't anywhere near as good as the regular Army. You had guys from DynCorp making $100,000, $150,000 a year, doing the same job some guy from the 5th Cavalry is doing for $30,000," he said. "We had guys that didn't leave their hotel for three, four months."

Guernsey, who is running unopposed for clerk-treasurer in Merrillville this November, had seen enough after two weeks, when he broke his contract with DynCorp and headed back to Indiana.

"I asked an Iraqi policeman, 'Tell me straight up, is it better or worse?'" he recalled. "He said, "It's like this, if (the U.S.) would've just come in and left right away, we'd have been happy.'"

Ex-cop in Iraq: 'It was a mess'

Gene Guernsey was looking to make a six-figure salary and help rebuild Iraq when he responded to an ad in a police magazine recruiting former cops to work for DynCorp.

Guernsey, a former officer with the Gary and Merrillville police departments, left Iraq after two weeks in 2004 with a low opinion of private contractors and the chances for U.S. reconstruction efforts.

"It was just a mess," said Guernsey, who is running unopposed for clerk-treasurer in Merrillville. "It was a money game for DynCorp."

DynCorp, the Virginia-based security firm hired by the U.S. State Department, does about one-third of the business in Iraq that rival Blackwater, a North Carolina firm currently under investigation by the U.S. Congress and Iraqi government for Sept. 14 incident in which 11 Iraqis were killed by Blackwater guards.

The case highlights the murky legal issues surrounding the controversial security firm's Iraq-based employees, who may be exempt from both U.S. and Iraqi law.

"What normally would be a major option would be to have him prosecuted in Iraq," said Ron Slye, director of the international comparative law program at Seattle University Law School. "The problem is of course, under Iraqi law as put into place by the U.S., there's no jurisdiction over these people."

Amid an outcry from Iraqis who questioned how an American could kill someone in those circumstances and return to the U.S. a free man, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would investigate.

Guernsey said he won't criticize the former cops and soldiers on the payroll for Blackwater and DynCorp, but said three years ago the companies seemed too poorly organized to have been effective.

"I can't say what they saw when they were out there," he said. "They're not being cowboys, they're just in a difficult situation."

Officials from DynCorp, which has logged far fewer violent incidents than Blackwater, did not return calls from the Post-Tribune seeking comment.

Guernsey, then 62, said he was hired to train police officers in Baghdad for a salary of more than $100,000 for the year. But, he said the streets of the city were so violent that he and the retired cops he was in Baghdad with seldom left their downtown hotel, and did no training.

On a trip to a police station, Guernsey spotted a tripwire between two cars, and witnessed an explosion.

"There were guys there with a dive team, they had no boat, no equipment, and they never left the hotel. They just stayed in the hotel and drank," Guernsey said.

"The only time you would leave the hotel was if you wanted to volunteer with the regular Army to go out on convoys. If you didn't want to do that, you stayed.

"We had guys that never went out for three, four months."

Guernsey opted to head to a DynCorp outpost in Tikrit, where he was told the city was safer, though the accommodations less swank than the three-star hotel hosting them in Baghdad.

"The guy told me to bring a cot, or you'd sleep on the floor with the bugs and rats and snakes," he said. Told he'd have to sleep on the floor when he arrived, Guernsey told his superiors he wanted out of his contract with DynCorp.

His bosses took back his weapons and combat gear, and Guernsey swapped police badges and patches he'd collected from other officers to get someone to give him a ride back to the airport in Baghdad.

"That was (2004). I believed Bush that we could rebuild there," he said. "I had retired, and I still missed police work. That was my last hurrah."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
 
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