An American businessman and former Armed Forces members are raising a secret mercenary army for Persian Gulf autocrats
In a dispatch from Dubai, writer Johann Hari once told the story of a Bangladeshi man recruited to the desert kingdom as a laborer. "As soon as he arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company," Hari reported. "He has not seen it since. He was told brusquely that from now on he would be working 14-hour days in the desert heat -- where western tourists are advised not to stay outside for even five minutes in summer, when it hits 55 degrees -- for 500 dirhams a month (£90), less than a quarter of the wage he was promised. If you don't like it, the company told him, go home. 'But how can I go home? You have my passport, and I have no money for the ticket,' he said. 'Well, then you'd better get to work,' they replied."
The anecdote came back to me as I read the weekend New York Times story on the United Arab Emirates, where there is a "secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, now Xe, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom." What does the soft autocracy want with such a fighting force? "People involved in the project and American officials said that the Emiratis were interested in deploying the battalion to respond to terrorist attacks and put down uprisings inside the country's sprawling labor camps, which house the Pakistanis, Filipinos and other foreigners who make up the bulk of the country's work force."