The Monthly Journalism Award

As President Bushs surge stretches the U.S. military ever thinner, the media has trained its eye on the private contractors who are filling the manpower gap in Iraq. In early July, the Los Angeles Times reported that private contractors now outnumber U.S. military forces. Days later, the New York Times investigated the high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder among returning contractors.

Another valuable contribution to this important story is Joseph Neffs report in the Raleigh News & Observer detailing the events surrounding the Fallujah massacre in 2004. The images of the bodies of four murdered and mutilated Blackwater USA security officers being dragged through the streets by chanting crowds were a resounding confirmation that the American presence was not entirely welcome in Iraq. Overlooked at the time, however, was the extent to which thesSubscribe Online & Save 33%e deaths resulted in part from Blackwater practices.

Neff obtained internal Blackwater memos showing that the team of four had been deployed despite warning supervisors that they were undermanned, underarmed, and sleep deprived. The memos also suggest that such practices were not an anomaly: [Baghdad manager Tom Powell] had sent us on this [expletive] mission and over our protest, wrote Daniel Browne, a member of a different Blackwater team that ignored company orders to drive through the heart of Fallujah.

Neff emphasizes a disturbing consequence of the U.S.s increasing reliance on private soldiers: a lack of accountability. An erring Army officer faces both public scrutiny, which can force reform, and the military justice system, which can punish offenders and deter others from malfeasance. Blackwater, on the other hand, has refused to release any information regarding the four Fallujah deaths. When the estates of the four men sued for the release of documents, Blackwater countersued for $10 million and got the trial moved into secret arbitration. So far, Blackwater remains accountable only to its bottom line. ?