CNN Anchor Derides Kidnapped Contractors as ‘Mercenaries’

On Friday’s "American Morning," anchor Miles O’Brien characterized a group of kidnaped contractors, which included four Americans, as "mercenaries." The program, which airs on CNN, a network that has been severely criticized for airing terrorist footage of American soldiers being murdered, featured a segment on the activities and tasks of military contractors. Introducing reporter Ali Velshi, O’Brien said this:

Miles O'Brien: "In southern Iraq, more now on the search for four American security contractors, one Austrian, feared kidnaped. It happened in Nasiriyah where Iraqi troops have taken control of security, but there's reason to believe the contractors were stopped at a checkpoint manned by insurgents masquerading as the authorities. 'American Morning's Ali Velshi is here to give us some perspective. The big picture, you know, we call them contractors. In another era, we would call them mercenaries."

Ali Velshi: "That's right, they are paid armed forces. There are different kind of contractors in, in Iraq right now."

Mercenaries? Now, according to Dictionary.com, the definitions of mercenaries are:

1. working or acting merely for money or other reward; venal.

2. hired to serve in a foreign army, guerrilla organization, etc.

Now, O’Brien would claim that he’s referring to the second definition, and Crescent Security Group, the company the contractors were working for, does provide security and defensive military services. But considering CNN’s reputation, the unfortunate airing of terrorist propaganda being one example, "mercenary" is not a word that the network should be using.

There’s another example of the term being used in a derogatory manner. In April of 2004, liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, better known as "Kos," famously derided contractors who were murdered in Fallujah as mercenaries. The comments, which have since been removed from his website, are below:

Markos Moulitsas Zúniga: "Let the people see what war is like. This isn’t an Xbox game. There are real repercussions to Bush’s folly. That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries [sic]. They aren’t in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them."

A quick Google search finds several examples of extreme left-wing sites referring to contractors as mercenaries. CNN’s liberal bias is well known by many, but Truthout and Daily Kos? Is this the type of company that the cable network wants to keep?

A complete transcript of the segment, which aired at 8:34p.m. on November 17, follows:

Miles O'Brien: "In southern Iraq, more now on the search for four American security contractors, one Austrian, feared kidnaped. It happened in Nasiriyah where Iraqi troops have taken control of security, but there's reason to believe the contractors were stopped at a checkpoint manned by insurgents masquerading as the authorities. 'American Morning's Ali Velshi is here to give us some perspective. The big picture, you know, we call them contractors. In another era, we would call them mercenaries."

Ali Velshi: "That's right, they are paid armed forces. There are different kinds of contractors in, in Iraq right now. But one of the largest groups might be security contractors, private security contractors, many of whom you spoke to, to a guest earlier are very highly trained soldiers. By one estimate last year, there might be 50,000. 48,000 civilian security employees and 181 different companies operating in Iraq. What they're doing is a lot of the jobs that the military might have done, but they are doing now. They are guarding convoys, they're guarding bases, they are guarding embassies and things like that. The costs of these, these groups are very high. In some cases up to a third of the cost of a given project, reconstruction project, but the average cost according to the Government Accounting Office, the GAO, is 16 percent to 22 percent of the entire effort in Iraq is going towards security forces. And they are very big. You were talking to the gentleman this morning who worked with Crescent, the company-"

O'Brien: "Colonel Shumcher, yes."

Velshi: "And these, Blackwater, which one of the biggest firms there, has said that it is in a position to now provide a brigade- sized force for low intensity conflicts. It's different than guarding an airport."

O'Brien: "Yeah. It's like a whole separate force."

Velshi: "It's a whole separate force. A lot of armed, armed people out there. It's dangerous work. They are getting paid very well, in many cases they are being billed out at $1,500 a day. But, these, these soldiers can earn well over $100,000 a year, which means it's very enticing for them in some cases to leave military forces."

O’Brien: But, but at great risk."

Velshi: "Absolutely."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org