America's Other Army

A furor over the killing of 17 Iraqis by Blackwater contractors puts the spotlight on the little-examined world of private security companies. Who are these guns for hire, and who pays when they mess up?

Robert Young Pelton, from Licensed to Kill, Hired Guns in the War on Terror.

Blackwater contractors sitting on the Mambas at the terminal at Baghdad International Airport after a run, smoking a cigar and waiting for new team members to arrive.

Close to midnight last Christmas Eve, a Blackwater security contractor named Andrew Moonen emerged from a boozy party in Baghdad's Green Zone and took a wrong turn on the way back to his hooch. There is as yet no satisfactory explanation for what happened next. An Iraqi guard named Raheem Khalif, who was protecting the compound of Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, was fatally shot three times. TIME interviewed three Iraqi guards who were on duty that night and reviewed two signed witness statements: all say the shooter was a white male, wearing an ID badge typically used by...

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