Washington was abuzz today with the 3 1/2 hour testimony of the head of Blackwater USA, whose appearance reminded some people of Oliver North’s two decades ago. Blackwater is the biggest provider of diplomatic security in Iraq, and its been accused of killing Iraqi civilians in firefights that it most often initiates.
The rise of American guns for hire reminded me of a piece from Rolling Stone two years ago that was included in the Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005. It dealt with Wolf Weiss, a rock ‘n’ roll merc whose father was assassinated when he was 11.
“He was found with over seventy percent of his bones broken, shot twice at point-blank range in the back of the head, wrapped up in a blanket with a yellow ribbon and a bow tie and then put in the back of his Rolls-Royce.” Weiss says this in an almost neutral tone, as if he’s stating where he went to high school.
The piece is titled “Heavy Metal Mercenary.” It’s raw, evocative and shows why these “contractors” are risking their lives in Iraq. (Hint: $20,000 a month.)
“Locked, cocked and ready to rock!” Scott shouts to Weiss over the radio. As he guns the Yukon through the crowded streets, Weiss views the drivers all around us not as fellow motorists but as potential terrorists—and we are their target. The director of a private security company that escorts supply convoys between cities and ferries clients to work, Weiss is a private gun for hire, part of the vast and growing army of for-profit contractors who are providing much of the firepower in Iraq. There are now an estimated 20,000 “operators” or “shooters,” as they’re known on the ground, making corporate soldiers the second-largest contingent in Iraq after the American military. For better or worse, these private military contractors have become an integral part of the occupation, the only force available to protect workers and officials as they attempt to rebuild schools and restore power. By government estimates, the for-profit militias could wind up costing American taxpayers more than $4 billion - a quarter of the cost budgeted for reconstruction. “A lot of people are calling us private armies—and that’s basically what we are,” says Weiss. “This is not a security company. This is a paramilitary force.”
Some of the private warriors sport such neat haircuts and tidy polo shirts that they look, at first, more like golf pros than gunslingers. Wolf Weiss, as his name suggests, is not the polo-shirt sort. He wears his body armor, and his bravado, at all times. He is not tall—only five feet eight—but his barrel chest is bursting out of his black bulletproof vest. His dark, crinkly hair, which hangs halfway down his back, is pulled back in a braid. His left bicep features a long, curling tattoo of a panther; the right displays a smaller one of the Grim Reaper playing the guitar. Beneath his vest, covering every inch of his back, is a tattoo that Weiss considers “a good representation of myself and my ideals in a nutshell”—a full-color, full-face rendering of a wolf about to pounce. “If you look into the eyeball,” he tells me later, “you’ll see a hunter with his hands up.” Sure enough, in one of the gleaming oracular pools, there is a tiny reflection of a predator, helpless in the knowledge that he has become the prey.
“The wolf is obviously me,” Weiss says. “The man in the eyeball is Evil.” As he drives, Weiss keeps changing lanes abruptly, cutting off other drivers in a high-octane dash for the desert. “Speed is security,” he likes to say. If anyone evil manages to get close enough to look in on us, the first thing he sees will not be faces but muzzles poised to fire. So when a car pulls alongside the Yukon, Weiss floors it and swerves away. “Kedar, get him!” he yells. “Get him!”
Kedar swings his weapon around and trains it on the car. The driver takes the hint and immediately peels off.
Read the whole thing here.