NEW ORLEANS—Mercenaries from Blackwater USA, infamous for their work in Iraq, are openly patrolling the streets of New Orleans carrying M-16s and other assault weapons.
Some of the mercenaries say they have been“deputized” by the Louisiana governor; some arewearing state law-enforcement badges on theirchests and Blackwater photo identification cards on their arms. They say they are under contract to the federal Department of Homeland Security and havebeen given the authority to use lethal force. Several mercenaries we spoke with said they had served inIraq on the personal security details of the formerhead of the U.S. occupation, L. Paul Bremer, and the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte.
“This is a totally new thing to have guys like us working CONUS (Continental United States),” a heavily armed Blackwater mercenary told us as we stood on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. “We’re much better equipped to deal with the situation in Iraq.”
Some of the men now patrolling the streets of New Orleans returned from Iraq as recently as two weeks ago. Blackwater is one of the leading private “security” firms servicing the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It has several U.S. government contracts and has provided security for many senior U.S. diplomats, foreign dignitaries and corporations.
The company rose to international prominence after four of its men were killed in Fallujah in March 2004, with the charred bodies of two of them hung from a bridge. Those killings sparked the U.S. destruction of Fallujah.
The city of New Orleans has been confiscating legally registered weapons from civilians. Police Commissioner Eddie Compass claims that “only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons.”
Officially, Blackwater says its forces are in New Orleans to “join the Hurricane Relief Effort.” A statement on the company’s website, dated Sept. 1, advertises airlift services, security services and crowd control.
The company, according to news reports, has since begun taking private contracts to guard hotels, businesses and other properties. But two Blackwater mercenaries told us they are actually engaged in general law-enforcement activities, including “securing neighborhoods” and “confronting criminals.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security told the Washington Post he knew of no federal plans to hire Blackwater or other private security.
“This is a trend,” one mercenary said.“You’re going to see a lot more guys like us in these situations.”