Editorial: Blood in the Blackwater


Last week’s Blackwater hearings before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform gave pause to those who were paying attention, mainly because they illuminated just how much the people who are supposed to be in charge don’t know about this private American militia headquartered in Moyock, NC.

Like, for instance, how much the 1,000-strong force in the Middle East actually costs, and if we are saving money by using them. Or to what laws the army-for-hire is accountable. Or if they are, as advertised on their website, “a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations firm,” or a bunch of armed hooligans using a military theater to act out on their own emotional issues.

The company’s founder, CEO and spokesperson, Erik D. Prince, has ties to the Republican Party (through his sister Betsy DeVos, former chair of the Michigan chapter), Amway (her husband was president of Amway before running for governor of Michigan), the Christian right (as a board member of Christian Freedom International, an activist group for “persecuted” American Christians), big money (his mother sold the family business for $1.3 billion) and the US military (he is a former Navy SEAL).

His company began its detail in Iraq – obtained through Halliburton sub-subcontracts, of course – in 2004, and it was banned from the country in September after an incident that left nine Iraqis dead in the streets. It was not an isolated incident. Shots fired into a crowd in June 2005 killed an Iraqi man. And since that time a pattern has emerged of reckless endangerment, disregard for Iraqi citizens and security forces, and wrongful death with accompanying cash payouts to the families of those killed.

The men and women employed by Blackwater in Iraq are a hodgepodge of retired US and foreign military personnel and civilians with a desire for that kind of action. And though they prefer drive-by shootings to indiscriminate civilian killing through bombing, in some ways they are more like al-Qaida than the US soldiers alongside whom they serve.

Though their handbook says they must uphold the rules of the Geneva Convention, they are not legally bound by it. Their tactics are not dictated by standard US military operations, either, and when they break the rules – or even commit war crimes – there is no mechanism for accountability save for employee termination.

They are an army without a country, even though they are based in the United States and are in the minds of many Iraqis one and the same as the US military forces.

And just as al-Qaida cannot survive without terrorist operatives on the ground, the US presence in Iraq cannot be maintained without Blackwater and the 100 or so other private security firms whose personnel support it.

But Prince and his private army are not in it for idealism or to defend a way of life. They are mercenaries, well-paid ones at that, and Prince made it clear that his allegiances are to neither the government nor the people of the United States.

“If the government doesn’t want us to do this,” he said after three hours of testimony, “we’ll go do something else.”

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