Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Speed Bump: Will Mass Murder In Nisoor Square Slow The Growth Of Blackwater?

BBC, September 17, 2007
US contractors in Iraq shootout
Officials are investigating a shooting incident in Baghdad in which at least eight civilians were reported killed by private US security contractors.

Both the US embassy in the Iraqi capital and the Iraqi interior ministry say they are looking into the incident.

The private security workers, who were employed by the US State Department, apparently opened fire after their convoy came under attack on Sunday.

At least 13 people were also injured in the shooting in a busy part of Baghdad.

Thousands of private security staff are employed by businessmen, journalists and dignitaries in lawless Iraq.

They are often heavily armed, but critics say some are not properly trained - even trigger-happy - and are not accountable except to their employers.
Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now!, March 20th, 2007
Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army
On September 10, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld gave one of his first major addresses as Defense Secretary, and gathered before him was the gaggle of corporate executives that had been tapped by the Bush administration to make up the senior civilian leadership at the Pentagon. There was a sort of mixture of people at the Pentagon. On the one hand, you had people from corporate America, from all the defense and weapons manufacturers that were brought in, and then you also had the neoconservative ideologues, people like Paul Wolfowitz. And so, Rumsfeld gives a speech in which he literally declared war on the Pentagon bureaucracy. And he said, “I’ve come not to destroy the Pentagon, but to liberate it. We need to save it from itself.”

And then literally the next day the Pentagon would be attacked. But the vision that Rumsfeld sort of laid out that day would become known as the Rumsfeld Doctrine, where you use high technology, small footprint forces and an increased and accelerated use of private contractors in fighting the wars. It also, at the center of the Rumsfeld Doctrine, became regime change in central strategic nations. Rumsfeld and Cheney both had been signers of the Project for a New American Century, that envisioned a new Pearl Harbor as accelerating the agenda, the neoconservative agenda. And, indeed, the day after Rumsfeld laid out that plan, the Pentagon was attacked, and all of a sudden the world became a blank canvas on which Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush could sort of paint their vision.
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, October 4, 2007
Tracing the Paths of 5 Who Died in a Storm of Gunfire
Minutes after noon on Sept. 16, Ali Khalil drove his black motorcycle toward Nisoor Square. Three days earlier, the 54-year-old blacksmith and father of six children had felt safe enough in the capital to reopen his shop.

Osama Fadhil Abbas, a 40-year-old car dealer, was approaching the square in his white truck, on his way to wire $1,000 to Dubai.

Mehasin Muhsin Kadhum, a 46-year-old doctor, and her eldest son, Ahmed Haitham, 20, were nearing the square in their white sedan, after a morning of errands that included picking up college application forms for Kadhum's daughter.

From the southeast, along a road that leads from the Green Zone, a convoy of four armored Blackwater USA vehicles also made its way to the square.
Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now!, January 26th, 2007
Our Mercenaries in Iraq: Blackwater Inc and Bush's Undeclared Surge
Blackwater is a company that began in 1996 as a private military training facility in -- it was built near the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina. And visionary executives, all of them former Navy Seals or other Elite Special Forces people, envisioned it as a project that would take advantage of the anticipated government outsourcing.

Well, here we are a decade later, and it’s the most powerful mercenary firm in the world. It has 20,000 soldiers on the ready, the world’s largest private military base, a fleet of twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships. It’s become nothing short of the Praetorian Guard for the Bush administration's so-called global war on terror. And it’s headed by a very rightwing Christian activist, ex-Navy Seal named Erik Prince, whose family was one of the major bankrollers of the Republican Revolution of the 1990s. He, himself, is a significant funder of President Bush and his allies.

And what they’ve done is they have built a very frightening empire near the Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina. They’ve got about 2,300 men actively deployed around the world. They provide the security for the US diplomats in Iraq. They’ve guarded everyone, from Paul Bremer and John Negroponte to the current US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. They’re training troops in Afghanistan. They have been active in the Caspian Sea, where they set up a Special Forces base miles from the Iranian border. They really are the frontline in what the Bush administration viewed as a necessary revolution in military affairs. In fact, they represent the life's work of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, October 4, 2007
Tracing the Paths of 5 Who Died in a Storm of Gunfire
Fifteen minutes later, the convoy sped away through a thick cloud generated by smoke bombs, leaving behind a tableau of bullet-pocked cars and broken lives. The events of that afternoon are still contested, but what is clear is that many of those killed and wounded were civilians struggling with the vicissitudes of their turbulent nation.

The victims were as young as 11 and as old as 55, according to hospital records. They were middle class and poor. They included college students, day laborers and professionals vital to rebuilding Iraq. There was a mother and her daughter. The daughter lived. There was a taxi driver, only 25, who was the sole provider for his parents and seven siblings. He died.

Blackwater guards say they were ambushed and shot at by Iraqi policemen and civilians. Ten eyewitnesses and Iraqi police officials insisted in interviews that the guards opened fire in the square, unprovoked, and continued shooting even as civilians fled for their lives. Hospital records show 14 dead and 18 injured, a toll higher than most previous official tallies.
AP via Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 17, 2007
Contractor shooting incidents on Iraqis
- May 2007: A Blackwater employee fatally shoots an Iraqi civilian deemed to be driving too close to a company security detail. A company spokeswoman says that based on incident reports and witness accounts, the employee acted lawfully and appropriately.

- December 2006: A drunken Blackwater employee fatally shoots a bodyguard for Shiite Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Iraqi and U.S. officials say. The incident is under investigation.

- 2006-2007: Two employees of Virginia-based Triple Canopy accuse their supervisor of shooting at Iraqi civilians for amusement after saying he was "going to kill somebody today." The company fires all three employees for failing to immediately report incidents involving gunfire.

- 2005-2006: Former employees of Custer Battles, a Rhode Island-based firm, accuse co-workers of firing indiscriminately at civilians and crushing a car filled with Iraqi children and adults while trying to make their way through a traffic jam. The company denies the accusations.

- December 2005: Employees of London-based Aegis Defense Services post videos on the Internet showing company guards firing at Iraqi civilians from a moving vehicle. Aegis says the shootings were within protocols allowing guards to fire on vehicles that approach too close or too quickly. U.S. Army auditors agree with Aegis.

- May 2005: Sixteen American security guards employed by North Carolina-based Zapata Engineering are jailed by Marines in Fallujah after they allegedly fired on U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians. The guards are released after three days and sent back to the U.S. None are charged.
August Cole, Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2007
Blackwater Vies for Jobs Beyond Guard Duty
Even as Blackwater USA seeks to extricate itself from a firestorm over the conduct of its private-security forces in Iraq, company founder Erik Prince is laying plans for an expansion that would put his for-hire forces in hot spots around the world doing far more than guard duty.

Blackwater faces criticism in the wake of a Sept. 16 shooting by the company's guards that the Iraqi government says killed 17 civilians, a crisis that appears to threaten the company's livelihood. Yet at Blackwater's headquarters here, where the sound of gunfire and explosions is testament to the daily training of hundreds of law-enforcement and military personnel, Mr. Prince's ambition is on display.

Mr. Prince wants to vault Blackwater into the major leagues of U.S. military contracting, taking advantage of the movement to privatize all kinds of government security. The company wants to be a one-stop shop for the U.S. government on missions to which it won't commit American forces. This is a niche with few established competitors, but it is drawing more and more interest from big military firms.
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, October 4, 2007
Tracing the Paths of 5 Who Died in a Storm of Gunfire
The carnage has sparked outrage and demands to reform the private contractor industry. Almost three weeks later, the collective memory of Iraqis at the scene is raw.

"It was catastrophic. So many innocent people were killed," recalled Zina Fadhil, 21, a pharmacist. That day, she huddled in fear inside her store about 100 yards from the square as Blackwater helicopters hovered above. Like other eyewitnesses, she said she saw Blackwater guards firing down from the helicopters, an allegation the security firm denies.

"I am a peaceful person, but I wished I could have shot those people in the helicopters," Fadhil continued, her soft voice rising.

Not one of the victims or family members interviewed had been aware that Blackwater was immune to prosecution in Iraq under an order by U.S. administrators after the 2003 invasion.

"Why is the blood of Iraqis so free for everyone to spill?" asked Sahib Nasr, the father of one of the victims.
Alissa J. Rubin and Paul von Zielbauer, New York Times, October 11, 2007
Blackwater Case Highlights Legal Uncertainties
If a private in the United States military fires on civilians, a clear body of law and a set of procedures exist for the military to use in investigating each incident and deciding if the evidence is sufficient to bring charges.

But when private security contractors do the same, it is exceedingly unlikely that they will be called to account. A patchwork of laws that are largely untested, and practical obstacles to building cases in war zones, have all but insulated contractors from accountability.

Those gaps were brought into sharp relief after Sept. 16, when Blackwater guards under contract to the State Department opened fire on unarmed civilians and killed 17 Iraqis, according to the Iraqi government.

Even if the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is now looking into the shooting for the department, determine that a crime was committed, there are formidable obstacles to mounting a case, according to interviews with former prosecutors, lawyers and experts in military and civilian law as it is applied overseas.

Roughly 100,000 American contractors are working in Iraq, but there has yet to be a prosecution for a single incident of violence, according to Scott Horton, a specialist in the law of armed conflict who teaches at Columbia University.

“Imagine a town of 100,000 people, and there hasn’t been a prosecution in three years,” Mr. Horton said. “How do you justify the fact that you aren’t addressing this?”
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, October 4, 2007
Tracing the Paths of 5 Who Died in a Storm of Gunfire
The Blackwater convoy was responding to a bombing near a State Department convoy about a mile away. As the Blackwater armored vehicles entered the square, a heavily guarded area near Baghdad's affluent Mansour neighborhood, Iraqi police officers moved to stop traffic.

Kadhum, the doctor, and her son Haitham, who were in the flow of cars the officers were trying to stop, didn't react quickly enough. A Blackwater guard fired, striking Haitham as he sat in the driver's seat, three witnesses said.

"The bullet went through the windshield and split his head open," recalled traffic police officer Sarhan Thiab. "His mother was holding him, screaming for help."

The car, which had an automatic transmission, kept rolling. Another officer, Ali Khalaf, tried to stop the vehicle as another spray of bullets killed Kadhum.

Thiab fled first, then Khalaf, followed by bullets that struck a traffic light pole, a billboard and their police guard post. Then the Blackwater guards escalated their firepower, engulfing the sedan in flames.

In sworn statements to State Department investigators reported by ABC News, four Blackwater guards said they fired upon the sedan because it was traveling at high speed and would not stop. Khalaf and other eyewitnesses said it was moving slowly and posed no threat.

Within moments, bullets flew in every direction, said witnesses and police officials. Scores sought cover in a nearby embankment. Others abandoned their vehicles. "They were shooting from four cars," said Ahmed Ali Jassim, 19, a maintenance worker, referring to the Blackwater guards. "People were fleeing, but where could they go?"
Alissa J. Rubin and Paul von Zielbauer, New York Times, October 11, 2007
Blackwater Case Highlights Legal Uncertainties
The State Department can waive immunity for contractors and let the case be tried in the Iraqi courts under Order 17, which is the section of the Transitional Administrative Law approved in 2004 that gives contractors immunity.

L. Paul Bremer III, who supervised the drafting of the immunity order as administrator of the United States occupation authority, said: “The immunity is not absolute. The order requires contractors to respect all Iraqi laws, so it’s not a blanket immunity.”

The order was intended as a substitute for a status of forces agreement, which can be made only with a sovereign country, Mr. Bremer said. While the military has immunity from Iraqi law, it agrees in exchange to subject its members to American military law. In contrast, civilian contractors have immunity, but it is unclear which laws, if any, can be used to hold them to account.
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, October 4, 2007
Tracing the Paths of 5 Who Died in a Storm of Gunfire
Abbas, the car dealer, was in his stopped Volkswagen box truck, crouched next to his friend Majid Salman. Their vehicle was two cars behind and one lane over from the white sedan. The men had witnessed Kadhum and her son get shot, then burn as their car caught fire.

The night before, Abbas, a barrel-chested father of four, read the Koran as is traditional during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. That morning, he cracked jokes with his two young sons, Mohammed and Ahmed, they later recalled, before he left to send money to Dubai.

Now, Abbas and Salman were trapped in traffic as Western gunmen fired automatic weapons toward them roughly 25 yards in front of their truck. Within seconds, bullets punctured the black car in front of their truck. Gripped by fear, Salman, 48, pushed open the passenger-side door and stumbled out. He was immediately shot in the leg and abdomen, and fell to the pavement.

"Osama told me to get back in the car," Salman recalled. "I tried to climb back in, but I couldn't, so I crawled away on the ground."

Salman looked back and saw Abbas pushing open his door. As he stepped out, he was shot multiple times. Moments later, weakened by his wounds, Salman passed out.
Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy, Kansas City Star, October 2, 2007
Report: State Dept., Blackwater cooperated to neutralize killings
On Sept. 24, 2006, a Blackwater detail driving on the wrong side of the road caused a red Opal driven by an Iraqi to skid into a Blackwater vehicle, hit a telephone pole and burst into flames. Blackwater personnel collected people and equipment from their disabled vehicle and left without aiding those in the Iraqi vehicle, described as being "in a ball of flames," according to a company report.

On Nov. 28, 2005, a Blackwater motorcade making a round-trip journey to Iraq's Oil Ministry collided with 18 different vehicles, according to another company document. Team members' written accounts of the incident were found by the company to be "invalid, inaccurate and, at best, dishonest reporting."

No employee of a private military contractor has been criminally charged for actions in Iraq.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell didn't return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment. She told the Associated Press: "We look forward to setting the record straight on this and other issues" at a hearing Tuesday of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Three senior State Department officials are also to testify.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said, "We are scrupulous in terms of oversight and scrutiny, not only of Blackwater but of all our contractors."
Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times, October 3, 2007
Blackwater gets a united defense
Top State Department officials and the head of their beleaguered private security firm, Blackwater USA, put forth a unified defense Tuesday against an onslaught of congressional criticism over the company's violent encounters with Iraqis.

The State Department and security officials attempted to portray Blackwater's armed guards as highly trained professionals who open fire in the streets of Baghdad only when the lives of the diplomats they are hired to protect are threatened.

At a daylong Capitol Hill hearing, Erik Prince -- the company's chairman and a former Navy SEAL -- responded to accusations of misconduct by defending his employees' performance and maintaining that the State Department was a meticulous overseer that held the contractors to exacting standards.

At the same time, the State Department's top Iraq coordinator, David M. Satterfield, praised Blackwater and said its guards had performed "exceedingly well." He denied that the department had improperly allowed contractors to evade prosecution for wrongdoing.

"We do believe that the overall mission of security contractors in Iraq is performed . . . with professionalism, with courage," Satterfield said.

The mutual defense, in back-to-back appearances before the House Oversight Committee, seemed to frustrate congressional Democrats. At one point, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois accused the State Department's top security official of parroting Blackwater's "talking points."
CNN, October 2, 2007 :
Blackwater contractor wrote government report on incident
The State Department's initial report of last month's incident in which Blackwater guards were accused of killing Iraqi civilians was written by a Blackwater contractor working in the embassy security detail, according to government and industry sources.

A source involved in diplomatic security at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said a Blackwater contractor, Darren Hanner, drafted the two-page "spot report" on the letterhead of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for the embassy's Tactical Operations Center.

That office -- which tracks and monitors all incidents and movements involving diplomatic security missions -- has outsourced positions to Blackwater and another private firm, the embassy source said.
August Cole, Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2007
Blackwater Vies for Jobs Beyond Guard Duty
Already, the 10-year-old company -- which went from renting out shooting ranges for thousands of dollars in its early years to revenue of almost a half-billion dollars last year -- is bidding on military work against industry giants such as Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. Mr. Prince says he is planning to build Blackwater's expertise in training, transportation and military support while expanding into making everything from remotely piloted blimps to an armored truck called the Grizzly that is tough enough to compete for the Army's latest armored-vehicle contract.

"We see the security market diminishing," Mr. Prince said. He added that the company's focus "is going to be more of a full spectrum," ranging from delivering humanitarian aid to responding to natural disasters to handling the behind-the-lines logistics of moving heavy equipment and supplies.

A continued increase in the outsourcing of national-security work isn't assured. "There's certainly a lot of questions [about privatization] that need to be asked," said Rep. David Price (D., N.C.), who has introduced legislation to broaden the jurisdiction of U.S. criminal law to cover battlefield contractors. "I think this isn't just about one company. This is about governmental practice that has gone quite far without oversight and accountability."

Still, the Defense Department recently tapped Blackwater to compete for parts of a five-year, $15 billion budget to fight terrorists with drug-trade ties. The U.S. government wants to use contractors to help its allies thwart drug trafficking and provide equipment, training and people. Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Co. are among those also in the running for the contracts.
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, October 4, 2007
Tracing the Paths of 5 Who Died in a Storm of Gunfire
About half a mile away, traffic police officer Hussam Abdul Rahman, 25, heard his co-worker Thiab's frantic voice over the radio asking for backup and ambulances. So he drove his motorcycle toward Nisoor Square from the west. As he neared dozens of stalled cars, he swerved to avoid gunfire and was thrown off the motorcycle, scraping his left elbow. He hid behind a concrete barrier, watching the chaos unfold.

"Whoever stepped out of his car was shot at immediately," Rahman said.

He saw the Blackwater guards firing at a red bus. In their statements, one guard said they were coming under fire from the bus. Rahman disputed this account, saying the passengers were breaking windows to jump out.

"People were trying to save themselves," he said.

After the convoy sped away, Rahman recognized an olive-green car with the driver's door open. The seat was empty. The car belonged to his cousin Mahdi Sahib, a taxi driver.

The short, mustachioed soccer fan's 10-member family lived off Sahib's $480 monthly income. Too poor to fix a broken windshield wiper, he had wrapped a ball of pink cloth at the tip of the rod.

"All his hopes in life were to get married," said his brother Ali Sahib, 23. "But he could never afford it."

Rahman called his cousin's cellphone. A stranger answered and informed him that Sahib had been injured. Rahman found him at a hospital in the Kadimiyah neighborhood, shot through his upper left side and bleeding internally.

The motorcycle of Ali Khalil, the blacksmith, was found at the edge of the square. He had been shot several times in the chest and taken, still alive, to Yarmouk Hospital, said Khalaf, the traffic officer.

Before he left that morning, recalled his wife, Fawzia Sharif, their grandson had woken up. Khalil had picked him up and kissed him. "Grandson, I am so happy I have seen you before I leave," he said.
Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now!, January 26th, 2007
Our Mercenaries in Iraq: Blackwater Inc and Bush's Undeclared Surge
President Bush hired Blackwater's lawyer -- Blackwater’s former lawyer to be his lawyer. He replaced Harriet Miers. His name is Fred Fielding, of course, a man who goes back many decades to the Reagan administration, the Nixon administration. He is now going to be Bush's top lawyer, and he was Blackwater's lawyer.

Joseph Schmitz, who was the former Pentagon Inspector General, whose job it was to police the war contractor bonanza, then goes on to work for one of the most profitable of them, is the vice chairman of the Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company, and the general counsel for Blackwater.

Ken Starr, who’s the former Whitewater prosecutor, the man who led the impeachment charge against President Clinton, Kenneth Starr is now Blackwater's counsel of record and has filed briefs for them at the Supreme Court, in fighting against wrongful death lawsuits filed against Blackwater for the deaths of its people and US soldiers in the war zones.

And then, perhaps the most frightening employee of Blackwater is Cofer Black. This is the man who was head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center at the time of 9/11, the man who promised President Bush that he was going to bring bin Laden's head back in a box on dry ice and talked about having his men chop bin Laden’s head off with a machete, told the Russians that he was going to bring the heads of the Mujahideen back on sticks, said there were going to be flies crawling across their eyeballs. Cofer Black is a 30-year veteran of the CIA, the man who many credit with really spearheading the extraordinary rendition program after 9/11, the man who told Congress that there was a “before 9/11” and an “after 9/11,” and that after 9/11, the gloves come off. He is now a senior executive at Blackwater and perhaps their most powerful behind-the-scenes operative.
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, October 4, 2007
Tracing the Paths of 5 Who Died in a Storm of Gunfire
Ten minutes away, Kadhum's charred white sedan sat at a bus stop on the fringes of Nisoor Square. Her husband, Haitham Ahmed, said he wants it left there until justice is served.

In the days following the deaths of his wife and son, he petitioned Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to hold Blackwater accountable. The mild-mannered pathologist still has not been contacted by Iraqi or U.S. officials.

"They have killed my beloveds. They were innocent," he lamented on Wednesday. "We don't have any contacts with any party, any side. We are all doctors."

"What I want is the law to prevail," he added. "I hope that this act will not go without punishment."

There were opportunities, he said, for his family to flee Iraq. But he and his wife believed in the promise of a new Iraq. "I feel pain when I see doctors leaving Iraq," he said.

His son was going to follow in his footsteps. In his third year of medical school, the soccer-loving, multilingual Ahmed planned to become a surgeon.

Now, he said, his two other children, Mariam, 18, and Haidar, 16, are concerned about his safety. "Enough of the pain, enough of death in Iraq."

Mariam was born in the last phases of the Iran-Iraq conflict. Her eyes filling with tears, she said she wanted to leave: "I was born in one war, I don't want to die in another."
James Risen, New York Times, October 8, 2007
Blackwater Chief at Nexus of Military and Business
Erik D. Prince, the crew-cut, square-jawed founder of Blackwater USA, the security contractor now at the center of a political storm in both Washington and Baghdad, is a man seemingly born to play a leading role in the private sector side of the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He is both a former member of the Navy Seals and the scion of a fabulously wealthy, deeply religious family that is enmeshed in Republican Party politics. As a result, the 38-year-old Mr. Prince stands at the nexus between American Special Operations, which has played such a critical role in the war operations, and the nation’s political and business elite, who have won enormous government contracts as war operations have increasingly been outsourced.

Republican political connections ran deep in his family long before Mr. Prince founded Blackwater in 1997. When he was a teenager, religious conservative leaders like Gary Bauer, now the president of American Values, were house guests. James C. Dobson, the founder of the evangelical organization Focus on the Family, gave the eulogy at his father’s funeral in 1995. “Dr. and Mrs. Dobson are friends with Erik Prince and his mother, Elsa Broekhuizen,” Focus on the Family said in a statement.

Mr. Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, married into one of the most politically active conservative families in the Midwest. She has served as the chairwoman of the Republican Party of Michigan, and last year, her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., ran unsuccessfully for governor of Michigan as the Republican candidate. Mr. Prince and his family have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and other conservative and religious causes, records show. One favorite: the prison ministry of Charles Colson, the former Watergate felon turned Christian prison evangelist.

Unlike many other young men who inherit great wealth, Mr. Prince also struck out on his own and joined the Navy Seals at a time when few other men of his economic class were willing to serve in the military. After his father died and left him a fortune, Mr. Prince’s experience in Special Operations led him to found Blackwater, and he has made a point of hiring other former members of the Navy Seals, including some who now play prominent management roles.

But now that Blackwater is under scrutiny for its involvement in the Sept. 16 shootings of as many as 17 Iraqis in downtown Baghdad, some critics are questioning whether Mr. Prince’s political connections have propelled the company’s sudden rise.

“He is an ideological foot soldier, not only in the war on terror, but also in the broader Bush agenda,” said Jeremy Scahill, the author of a new book called “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” (Nation). “He is a visionary when it comes to military technology and asymmetric warfare. But he is also a bankroller of Republican and right-wing religious causes.”

His family sold the Prince Corporation for more than $1 billion in 1996, a windfall that gave Erik Prince the financial freedom to create Blackwater.
Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now!, January 26th, 2007
Our Mercenaries in Iraq: Blackwater Inc and Bush's Undeclared Surge
Erik Prince, the head of Blackwater, and other Blackwater executives are major bankrollers of the President, of Tom DeLay, of Santorum. [...] When those guys were running Congress [...] Blackwater had just a revolving door there. They were really welcomed in as heroes. Senator John Warner, the former head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called them “our silent partner in the global war on terror.” Erik Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, is married to Dick Devos, who recently lost the gubernatorial race in Michigan.

But also, Amy, this is a family, the Prince family, that really was one of the primary funders. It was Amway and Dick DeVos in the 1990s, and it was Edgar Prince and his network -- Erik Prince's father -- that really created James Dobson, Focus on the Family -- they gave them the seed money to start it -- Gary Bauer, who was one of the original signers to the Project for a New American Century, a major anti-choice leader in this country, former presidential candidate, founder of the Family Research Council. He credits Edgar Prince, Erik’s father, with giving him the money to start the Family Research Council. We’re talking about people who were at the forefront of the rightwing Christian revolution in this country that really is gaining steam, despite recent electoral defeats.

And what’s really frightening is that you have a man in Erik Prince, who is a neo-crusader, a Christian supremacist, who has been given over a half a billion dollars in federal contracts, and that's not to mention his black contracts, his secret contracts, his contracts with foreign friendly governments like Jordan. This is a man who espouses Christian supremacy, and he has been given, essentially, allowed to create a private army to defend Christendom around the world against secularists and Muslims and others, and has really been brought into the fold. He refers to Blackwater as the sort of FedEx of the Pentagon. He says if you really want a package to get somewhere, do you go with the postal service or do you go with FedEx? This is how these people view themselves. And it embodies everything that President Eisenhower prophesied would happen with the rise of an unchecked military-industrial complex. You have it all in Blackwater.
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, October 4, 2007
Tracing the Paths of 5 Who Died in a Storm of Gunfire
On Monday, inside his spacious cream-colored house in Baghdad's Khadisiya neighborhood, Firoz Fadhil Abbas questioned whether anyone would be held accountable for the shootings.

He has met several times with U.S. military investigators, and every time they apologized for his brother's death, he said. But such words have done little to ease the clan's loss.

"It looks like everything is back to normal. The company is back in operation," Abbas said. "And we've lost the head of our family. There's no justice here."

Mohammed Osama Fadhil, Osama's 14-year-old son, quietly listened to the conversation. Seated near him was his brother, Ahmed, a solemn 7-year-old. Finally, Mohammed spoke, focusing on Blackwater.

"They killed many others before," he said. "Have they done anything to help those people, so that we can expect something?"

Around the corner, his father's Volkswagen truck was parked in the driveway of a neighbor's house. A huge hole was gouged in the driver's door, surrounded by smaller bullet holes. On the top of the cab was another gaping hole, seemingly from powerful bullets fired from above. The windshield was shattered into hundreds of honeycomb patterns.
Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now!, March 20th, 2007
Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army
One of the most disturbing incidents that happened in Iraq with mercenaries was on April 4, 2004. Muqtada al-Sadr's forces from the Mahdi Army were in an uprising, because Paul Bremer had ordered the arrest of one of his top deputies, and there was a massive protest that hit the city of Najaf. Blackwater was guarding the occupation office there. They also had some Salvadoran troops, part of the Coalition of the Willing, as well as some active-duty US Marines.

And one of those Marines, Corporal Lonnie Young -- I got the official Marine account of that day. As the protest was happening, Lonnie Young, this active-duty Marine, has his weapon aimed into the crowd at a guy he says was carrying an AK-47. And he's thinking to himself, you know, “I need to ask for orders to open fire,” but there were no commanding officers on scene. So he asked permission from Blackwater to open fire. And he said, “Sir, I’ve acquired a target with your permission.” And he says Blackwater gave the order.

So Blackwater took active command of an active-duty US Marine in a battle that Muqtada al-Sadr’s forces recall as a massacre on April 4, 2004. Blackwater guys refer to it as their Alamo. It's unclear how many people were killed that day, but they were firing off so many rounds, the Blackwater guys and this Marine, that they had to stop every fifteen minutes to let their weapons cool. Lonnie Young, that Marine, says hundreds of people were killed that day. The US government would say that there were about twenty to thirty.
August Cole, Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2007
Blackwater Vies for Jobs Beyond Guard Duty
To make good on Blackwater's expansion plans, Mr. Prince must first extinguish the crisis raging over Blackwater employees' conduct as a private security force for the State Department in Iraq. Critics say Blackwater's aggressive tactics, while effective, have unnecessarily led to civilian deaths and complicated already tense relations between the U.S. and the Iraqi government.

Investigators for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found that there have been 195 reported shooting incidents and 16 Iraqi casualties involving Blackwater's guards in Iraq since 2005. The company has said it has done 16,000 missions for the State Department since June 2005, using its weapons just 1% of the time.

The Bush administration, which has counted heavily on contractors to help the U.S. military in Iraq and elsewhere, has done little to directly help Blackwater in the current controversy. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered a review of how security firms are used in Iraq. And the State Department has distanced itself, requiring that all private-security convoys include a State Department monitor to oversee their actions.

Also last week, Blackwater withdrew from an industry association of defense-services firms as the group began looking into whether Blackwater was following the association's ethical and operational guidelines.
Sudarsan Raghavan and Josh White, Washington Post, October 12, 2007
Blackwater Guards Fired at Fleeing Cars, Soldiers Say
In the hours and days after the Nisoor Square shootings, the U.S. military sought to distance itself from Blackwater. Dozens of soldiers went door-to-door to seek out victims, offer condolence payments and stress that the military was not involved in the shootings, Tarsa and his soldiers said. Their actions underscore the long-standing tensions between the U.S. military and private security companies -- and the military's concerns that such shootings, and the lack of accountability for the private security industry, could undermine U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq.

"It was absolutely tragic," said Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division and the Army's top commander for Baghdad. "In the aftermath of these, everybody looks and says, 'It's the Americans.' And that's us. It's horrible timing. It's yet another challenge, another setback," he said.
Another setback indeed. The Army would never do anything like that. But it might do something like this:

Josh White and Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, September 24, 2007
U.S. Aims To Lure Insurgents With 'Bait'
A Pentagon group has encouraged some U.S. military snipers in Iraq to target suspected insurgents by scattering pieces of "bait," such as detonation cords, plastic explosives and ammunition, and then killing Iraqis who pick up the items, according to military court documents.

The classified program was described in investigative documents related to recently filed murder charges against three snipers who are accused of planting evidence on Iraqis they killed.

"Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy," Capt. Matthew P. Didier, the leader of an elite sniper scout platoon attached to the 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment, said in a sworn statement. "Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the item against U.S. Forces."
Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, October 3, 2007
Guards in Iraq Cite Frequent Shootings
U.S. officials and security company representatives said they were especially concerned about firms that operate beyond the radar of U.S. and Iraqi authorities. David Horner, who worked for Crescent Security Group, a company based in Kuwait City, said that after being attacked with a roadside bomb in a town north of Baghdad, Crescent employees fired their automatic weapons preemptively whenever they passed through the town.

"I know that I personally never saw anyone shoot at us, but we blazed through that town all the time," said Horner, 55, a truck driver from Visalia, Calif. "Personally I did not take aim at one person. But I don't know what everybody else did. We'd come back at the end of the day, and a lot of times we were out of ammo."
August Cole, Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2007
Blackwater Vies for Jobs Beyond Guard Duty
Rather than hunker down, Mr. Prince has abandoned the low profile under which he has operated -- in part because of language in his contract with the State Department -- and mounted a public-relations campaign. Mr. Prince says he stands behind his people who are putting their lives on the line in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. He adds that he has confidence that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and State Department will determine what actually happened during the Sept. 16 shooting.

For Blackwater, the stakes are high because there is a steady stream of cash from the security work. "We're a lot smaller than you think," Mr. Prince said. According to State Department testimony before Congress, Blackwater's share of the department's world-wide spending on security, mainly focused on Iraq, costs the government $360 million a year for guard work and another $113 million for aircraft.

Just six years ago, Blackwater didn't even register a blip on the defense industry's radar screen. When he founded Blackwater in 1997, Mr. Prince wasn't yet 30 years old and had just helped sell his family's auto-parts business for $1.35 billion. Betting that he could capitalize on his experience as a former Navy SEAL, he established a compound in North Carolina to train elite forces in conditions as close to combat as possible.
James Glanz and Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, September 28, 2007
Blackwater Shooting Scene Was Chaotic
Participants in a contentious Baghdad security operation this month have told American investigators that during the operation at least one guard continued firing on civilians while colleagues urgently called for a cease-fire. At least one guard apparently also drew a weapon on a fellow guard who did not stop shooting, an American official said.
Sudarsan Raghavan, Joshua Partlow and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, October 5, 2007
Blackwater Faulted In Military Reports From Shooting Scene
U.S. military reports from the scene of the Sept. 16 shooting incident involving the security firm Blackwater USA indicate that its guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force against Iraqi civilians, according to a senior U.S. military official.

The reports came to light as an Interior Ministry official and five eyewitnesses described a second deadly shooting minutes after the incident in Nisoor Square. The same Blackwater security guards, after driving about 150 yards away from the square, fired into a crush of cars, killing one person and injuring two, the Iraqi official said.

The U.S. military reports appear to corroborate the Iraqi government's contention that Blackwater was at fault in the shooting incident in Nisoor Square, in which hospital records say at least 14 people were killed and 18 were wounded.

"It was obviously excessive, it was obviously wrong," said the U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the incident remains the subject of several investigations. "The civilians that were fired upon, they didn't have any weapons to fire back at them. And none of the IP or any of the local security forces fired back at them," he added, using a military abbreviation for the Iraqi police. The Blackwater guards appeared to have fired grenade launchers in addition to machine guns, the official said.

The company has said its guards acted appropriately after being attacked. Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince, in previously unpublicized remarks prepared for delivery at a congressional hearing Tuesday, said the Blackwater guards "came under small-arms fire" and "returned fire at threatening targets."
Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now!, September 24th, 2007
Blackwater Back on Patrol in Baghdad as Shootings Probe Continues
The US embassy spokesperson said yesterday that they had never gotten any communications whatsoever from the Iraqi government about any problems with Blackwater. And that's just an absolute fabricated lie. The fact of the matter is that, going back to at least Christmas Eve of last year, the Iraqi Interior Ministry has consistently complained about the conduct of Blackwater. The Iraqi government alleges that Blackwater has killed journalists, has killed guards in front of government buildings. They have cited a number of incidents in which Blackwater has killed several civilians or wounded others. And, in fact, a senior US official who is a liaison to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, a few months ago told the Washington Post about the complaints that the Iraqis were lodging with the US government, and nothing happened. So, clearly, the United States is lying. The Iraqis have consistently complained about this.

Now, after a dozen incidents involving Blackwater, many of which resulted in the deaths of Iraqi civilians, the government has finally asserted itself. And I don't think it’s because Maliki has a spine. I think it’s because his government is absolutely weak. He needs to show some kind of strength. His government could fall if Blackwater continues to operate in Iraq.
Sudarsan Raghavan and Josh White, Washington Post, October 12, 2007
Blackwater Guards Fired at Fleeing Cars, Soldiers Say
Blackwater USA guards shot at Iraqi civilians as they tried to drive away from a Baghdad square on Sept. 16, according to a report compiled by the first U.S. soldiers to arrive at the scene, where they found no evidence that Iraqis had fired weapons.

"It appeared to me they were fleeing the scene when they were engaged. It had every indication of an excessive shooting," said Lt. Col. Mike Tarsa, whose soldiers reached Nisoor Square 20 to 25 minutes after the gunfire subsided.

His soldiers' report -- based upon their observations at the scene, eyewitness interviews and discussions with Iraqi police -- concluded that there was "no enemy activity involved" and described the shootings as a "criminal event." Their conclusions mirrored those reached by the Iraqi government, which has said the Blackwater guards killed 17 people.

The soldiers' accounts contradict Blackwater's assertion that its guards were defending themselves after being fired upon by Iraqi police and gunmen.

Tarsa said they found no evidence to indicate that the Blackwater guards were provoked or entered into a confrontation. "I did not see anything that indicated they were fired upon," said Tarsa, 42, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. He also said it appeared that several drivers had made U-turns and were moving away from Nisoor Square when their vehicles were hit by gunfire from Blackwater guards.
Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now!, September 24th, 2007
Blackwater Back on Patrol in Baghdad as Shootings Probe Continues
I think that the fact that Blackwater mercenaries are heavily armed and on the streets of Iraq is perhaps the greatest indicator of how the Bush administration defines Iraqi sovereignty. And it was initially left up to Iraqi spokespeople to explain that Blackwater would be back on the street. And the reason that they gave -- and it clearly had come from Condoleezza Rice -- is that it would create a security vacuum. I have never heard a more ridiculous statement. It's Blackwater that’s created the security vacuum for Iraqi civilians, as many as twenty-eight of whom were gunned down last Sunday in Al-Nisoor Square in the Mansour section of Baghdad.

And what we’re seeing is that, at the highest levels of government, Maliki has now stuck his neck out. And how it plays in Washington is one thing, but how it plays in Iraq is a very different one . You have the entire Iraqi cabinet and Muqtada al-Sadr demanding that Blackwater be expelled from the country. In fact, many Iraqi politicians are calling for all of these mercenary forces to be expelled from Iraq. This is perhaps one of the greatest crises of the occupation to date. And right now, Condoleezza Rice is clearly acting as though she’s the president of Iraq. The idea that you can have twenty-eight people gunned down including -- and we understand the shooting began when Blackwater operatives fired on an Iraqi vehicle, killing the driver. Then they launched, according to witnesses, some kind of a flamed grenade at the car and engulfed it in flames. And inside was a mother with her infant child. And that's when the shooting began. And Iraqi witnesses, survivors, say that it was a melee, where Blackwater guys were just indiscriminately firing in the streets.
Sudarsan Raghavan and Josh White, Washington Post, October 12, 2007
Blackwater Guards Fired at Fleeing Cars, Soldiers Say
The Washington Post on Thursday examined a storyboard of the soldiers' assessment that has been forwarded to senior U.S. military commanders, photos taken by aerial drones shortly after the shooting and sworn statements by two U.S. soldiers at the scene that day. The Post also reviewed photos taken by U.S. soldiers of the shootings' aftermath. These, along with interviews with four of Tarsa's soldiers who inspected the scene, revealed previously undisclosed details:

-- At least two cars, a black four-door taxi and a blue Volkswagen sedan, had their back windshields shot out, but their front windshields were intact, indicating they were shot while driving away from the square, according to the photos and soldiers. The Volkswagen, which crashed into a bus stand, had blood splattered on the inside of its front windshield and windows. One person was killed, soldiers said.

-- U.S. soldiers did not find any bullets that came from AK-47 assault rifles or BKC machine guns used by Iraqi policemen and soldiers. They found evidence of ammunition used in American-made weapons, including M4 rifle 5.56mm brass casings, M240B machine gun 7.62mm casings, M203 40mm grenade launcher casings, and stun-grenade dunnage, or packing.

-- A white sedan, carrying a doctor and her son, had not entered the Nisoor Square traffic circle, where the Blackwater vehicles had stopped, when it was fired upon, according to the aerial photos. News reports have said the guards shot at the car because they believed it approached them in a threatening manner.
Chris Hedges, Truthdig, December 31, 2006
America’s Holy Warriors
Erik Prince, the secretive, mega-millionaire, right-wing Christian founder of Blackwater, the private security firm that has built a formidable mercenary force in Iraq, champions his company as a patriotic extension of the U.S. military. His employees, in an act as cynical as it is deceitful, take an oath of loyalty to the Constitution. These mercenary units in Iraq, including Blackwater, contain some 20,000 fighters. They unleash indiscriminate and wanton violence against unarmed Iraqis, have no accountability and are beyond the reach of legitimate authority. The appearance of these paramilitary fighters, heavily armed and wearing their trademark black uniforms, patrolling the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, gave us a grim taste of the future. It was a stark reminder that the tyranny we impose on others we will one day impose on ourselves.
August Cole, Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2007
Blackwater Vies for Jobs Beyond Guard Duty
There are signs everywhere at Blackwater's Moyock compound that Mr. Prince is serious about making Blackwater more indispensable to the government.

The company has a fleet of 40 aircraft, including small turboprop cargo planes that can land on runways too small or rough for the Air Force. The company's aviation unit has done repeat business with the Defense Department in Central Asia, flying small loads of cargo between bases.

Also in the North Carolina compound: an armored-car production line that Mr. Prince says will be able to build 1,000 of the brutish-looking Grizzly vehicles a year. The project arose out of a need for Blackwater to protect its security convoys in Iraq. Drawing on Mr. Prince's family history in the automotive industry, Blackwater made sure that the vehicles are legal to drive on U.S. highways.

Mr. Prince bought a 183-foot civilian vessel that Blackwater has modified for potential paramilitary use. Mr. Prince sees the ship as a possible step into worlds such as search-and-rescue, peacekeeping and maritime training.

Some observers say Blackwater is positioned to land more military work, despite the controversy over its operations in Iraq.

"We learned in the last round of big Army contracts, Congress can beat up on Blackwater all they want without regulating them, but it just ends up giving jobs to the Brits and other foreign firms," said Steve Schooner, a professor at the George Washington University law school and a contracting expert. "Blackwater is going to grow, and if they don't, one of their competitors is going to."
Chris Hedges, Truthdig, December 31, 2006
America’s Holy Warriors
If the United States falls into a period of instability caused by another catastrophic terrorist attack, an economic meltdown or a series of environmental disasters, these paramilitary forces, protected and assisted by fellow ideologues in the police and military, could swiftly abolish what is left of our eroding democracy. War, with the huge profits it hands to businesses and right-wing interests that often help bankroll the Christian right, could become a permanent condition. And the thugs with automatic weapons, black uniforms and wraparound sunglasses who appeared on street corners in Baghdad and New Orleans could appear on streets across the U.S. Such a presence could paralyze us with fear, leaving us unable to question or protest the closed system and secrecy of an emergent totalitarian state and unable to voice dissent.

“The Bush administration has already come close to painting our current wars as wars against Islam -- many in the Christian right apparently have this belief,” Ratner said. “If these wars, bad enough as imperial wars, are fought as religious wars, we are facing a very dark age that could go on for a hundred years and that will be very bloody.”
Anne Davies, Sydney Morning Herald, October 10, 2007
Iraq seeks $9m for each Blackwater victim
IRAQI authorities have demanded $US8 million ($8.9 million) in compensation for the families of each of the 17 people killed when Blackwater USA guards opened fire on a crowded square last month.

A report issued by the Iraqi Government, which calls on the US Government to end its relationship with the controversial security firm within six months, is set to further raise tensions between the Government of the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and the White House.

The report said the compensation - totalling $US136 million - was so high "because Blackwater uses employees who disrespect the rights of Iraqi citizens even though they are guests in this country".

The US military pays compensation to the families of civilians killed in battles or to cover property damage, but at far lower amounts. The Iraqi Government has called on US authorities to hand over the Blackwater security agents involved in the shootings to face possible trial in Iraqi courts and has disputed US claims that a law agreed to in 2004 grants the Blackwater guards immunity.
Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters, October 15, 2007
Blackwater says lawsuit "politically motivated"
Blackwater USA founder Erik Prince on Sunday dismissed as "politically motivated" a lawsuit filed against his security company by a wounded survivor and relatives of three Iraqis killed in Baghdad on September 16.
CNN, October 3, 2007:
White House: Contractor bill would have 'intolerable' effects
The Bush administration said Wednesday it opposes a bill that would bring private military contractors overseas under U.S. law, warning it would have "unintended and intolerable consequences" for national security.

Its sponsor, North Carolina Democratic Rep. David Price, said the bill would clear up questions such as those raised by last month's Baghdad shootings involving contractors from the U.S. security firm Blackwater USA.

But the White House, in a formal statement of policy, said the measure would overburden the military, overstretch the FBI, intrude on prosecutorial decisions and extend federal jurisdiction overseas in ways that would be "impossible or unwise."

Wednesday, Price released a statement calling the Bush administration's objections unfounded.

The White House position "should infuriate anyone who believes in the rule of law," the statement read. "The fact is the administration has an embarrassing track record for investigating and prosecuting misconduct by contractors working in our name.

The White House said the bill would saddle the FBI with the responsibility of investigating deaths caused by private contractors overseas.

It would place "inappropriate and unwarranted burdens" on the Defense Department, which the administration said would be required to arrest contractors and support a specially created FBI unit that would investigate killings in a theater of war.

"The administration is concerned that this sweeping expansion of extraterritorial jurisdiction would create federal jurisdiction overseas in situations where it would be impossible or unwise to extend it," the White House said. "The bill would have unintended and intolerable consequences for crucial and necessary national security activities and operations."
So here we have it in the simplest possible form:

Intolerable is when the agencies that are supposed to uphold the rule of law are required to fulfill their responsibilities.

Tolerable is when somebody you hired to protect you shoots through the back window of somebody's car and splatters their brains all over the windshield.

The way it's set up, if the political backlash (such as it is) slows the growth of Blackwater, that certainly won't hurt Blackwater's competitors.

And what about the poor folks in the street? Take a guess.