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2009-08-05

In Explosive Allegations, Ex-Employees Link Blackwater Founder to Murder, Threats

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In sworn statements, two ex-employees claim Blackwater’s owner, Erik Prince, murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. One also charged Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe." We speak with investigative journalist and bestselling author Jeremy Scahill, who broke the story for The Nation magazine. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Murder, destruction of evidence, weapons smuggling, corruption — those are just some of the explosive allegations made by two former employees of the private military contractor formerly known as Blackwater. The claims were made in sworn statements filed on August 3rd in federal court in Virginia.

The two men claim Blackwater’s owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. One also alleges that Prince, quote, "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince’s companies, quote, "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life."

The identities of the two men, a former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company, were sealed out of concerns for their safety.

In their testimony, both men also allege that Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq. One of the men alleges Prince turned a profit by transporting "illegal" or "unlawful" weapons into the country on Prince’s private planes. They also charge Prince and other Blackwater executives destroyed incriminating videos, emails and other documents and have intentionally deceived the US State Department and other federal agencies.

The allegations and a series of other charges are contained in sworn affidavits, given under penalty of perjury, as part of a seventy-page motion by lawyers for Iraqi civilians suing Blackwater for alleged war crimes and other misconduct.

Blackwater now operates under the name Xe, spelled X-E. We contacted the company about the allegations, but they didn’t return our calls.

Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill broke the story in The Nation magazine yesterday. Jeremy is the author of the bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His writing and reporting is also available at RebelReports.com. He is a twice George Polk Award-winning reporter. He joins us in our firehouse studio.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

JEREMY SCAHILL: Thanks, Amy. Nice to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: So, just lay it out. What is it that you discovered? What is this lawsuit all about?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, there are two major investigations happening of Blackwater right now. One of them is being conducted by the Department of Justice for crimes committed by Blackwater over a wide range of years in Iraq. And five Blackwater operatives have been indicted on criminal manslaughter charges; they face thirty-five charges in all for their role in the Nisoor Square shooting, the single-greatest massacre of Iraqi civilians by a private force that we know of in Iraq. A sixth Blackwater operative, a guy named Jeremy Ridgeway, pled guilty to one count of manslaughter and then another, a lesser count, and is cooperating now with federal authorities.

The second investigation is being done by civilian attorneys, so to speak. A private lawyer named Susan Burke has been a pitbull in going after Blackwater for a number of shootings of civilians and others in Iraq. She’s working with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is suing Blackwater in five separate lawsuits in the Washington, DC area.

And so, what we have here are two affidavits that are sworn, under penalty of perjury, by one former Blackwater employee who, I’ve learned from sources, was actually a member of Blackwater management and had knowledge of Blackwater’s inner workings and operations. The other, as you stated, was a Marine who was honorably discharged and then took up employment with Blackwater as a security operator inside of Baghdad, and Iraq, in more general. Their two statements were submitted late Monday night in a federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia as part of a motion that Susan Burke and the Center for Constitutional Rights submitted, trying to stop Blackwater from having these cases dismissed. There’s going to be a hearing on Friday in this federal court, in Judge Ellis’s courtroom.

And these declarations, Amy, are stunning, in the sense that it’s the first time that we really see insiders at Blackwater alleging a direct role by Erik Prince, the sole owner and the founder of the company, potentially in either murdering someone who was cooperating with federal authorities or was intending to cooperate with federal authorities — talking about in the criminal investigation here of Blackwater — or he helped facilitate the murder of these individuals.

In the motion that was filed by Susan Burke on Monday, she says that under state law in Virginia, under state law in North Carolina, and under federal law in the United States of America, Erik Prince could be criminally charged with murder for his role in the killing of Iraqis, specifically, but not exclusively, because of the aspect here that he viewed himself as a crusader with a mission to essentially kill or, in the words of one of the former Blackwater people, “eliminate” Muslims and wage war on Islam globally, that Erik Prince was aware that he was sending men — in fact, he was intending to send men to Iraq that he knew were going to be reckless in their use of force.

He provided them, according to these individuals, with weapons that were unauthorized for use by the State Department. One of them says he was smuggling them in wrapped in sort of cellophane on his private airplanes, bringing them into Iraq. John Doe number one, the former Marine, witnessed, he says, weapons being taken out of dog food bags that had been brought into Iraq by Blackwater. Blackwater has a huge canine division, so — and I had heard this also from other Blackwater employees.

But what’s interesting is that they wouldn’t go on the record because of fear — and I’ve heard this for years — of either violence from Erik Prince’s management team or of being pursued monetarily by Blackwater. These are very explosive charges. To hear the words “murder” and “Blackwater” in the same sentence is not a shock to anyone who knows anything about what they’ve been doing in Iraq. To read, though, Erik Prince’s direct role in it and knowing that he micromanages everything in that company, these are explosive developments.

AMY GOODMAN: His background? I mean, the allegation that he views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. Erik Prince used to — you know, he said once that people that say those kinds of things about him don’t know anything about religion. Well, the fact is that if you look at Erik Prince’s life history, this is a kid who was sort of the crown prince of the radical religious right, if you look at it; not to be funny on words here, but Erik Prince was, in a way, the crown prince. His father, Edgar Prince, was one of the kingpins of the financial network that created the radical religious right. His dad, Edgar Prince, gave the seed money to Gary Bauer to start the Family Research Council; James Dobson, Focus on the Family. Close family friend of the Princes is Chuck Colson, who was Nixon’s hatchet man during Watergate and now has emerged to be one of the most powerful evangelical leaders in the United States, an adviser to President Bush.

Young Erik Prince interns at the George H.W. Bush White House but says it’s not conservative enough for him, so he backs Pat Buchanan’s insurgency campaign. Erik Prince converted to Catholicism, my sources tell me, because he wanted to be closer to the true tradition of the Church and to the Crusades. And then you have this individual serving in the military, leaving the Navy Seals then to start a private military training company, that once the so-called war on terror is launched by President Bush, a candidate who Erik Prince gave tremendous money to and his whole network funded — they were all Bush Pioneers — Bush then launches a war that he describes as a “crusade,” invading not one, but two Muslim countries, and putting Erik Prince and his private force of neo-crusaders at the vanguard of that occupation, guarding all of the senior people that Bush deployed in those countries to be his point men. Blackwater, effectively, under the Bush years, operated as an armed wing of the Bush administration, and now we know from employees that there, in fact, was a perception within the company that Erik Prince viewed himself as a crusader in a war against Islam.

The last point I’ll make on this is that what we also understand from John Doe number one is that these individuals inside of Iraq, the Blackwater operatives, some of them used call signs, identifying names, nicknames, that were taken from the realm of the Knights of the Templar, the original Crusaders, the warriors who fought the Crusades. And this is a very, very, I think, unsurprising development, in the sense that we’ve known many of these things about Erik Prince, but stunning to see it coming from insiders at Blackwater in sworn statements under penalty of perjury.

AMY GOODMAN: Other allegations in the documents, Prince’s North Carolina operations had an ongoing wife-swapping and sex ring?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah. I mean, I — you know, I had heard these allegations. I think the first time I heard something of that nature was in 2006. One of — this is something that comes from just one of the individuals, the one identified as John Doe number two. And John Doe number two says that it caused so much trouble at the company that Erik Prince — among the staff, because of the wife-swapping operation — that Erik Prince actually asked one of his senior executives, Joseph Schmitz, to conduct an investigation. There’s no further information on it.

Interestingly, Joseph Schmitz, speaking of the Christian stuff, was — Christian supremacist stuff — was Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon inspector general, was in love with Donald Rumsfeld, while he was supposed to be monitoring his conduct, and then leaves the Pentagon to go work for one of the contractors he was supposed to be overseeing. Joseph Schmitz is a radical, militant, right-wing Catholic, who once wrote a letter to the Washington Times

about abortion, referring to himself as a former fetus, and therefore he understands the issue of abortion, because he’s a former fetus. He also is a member of the Knights of Malta and is an avowed Christian supremacist.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Jeremy Scahill, award-winning investigative journalist, who has just exposed this story. Now, we asked Blackwater — well, it’s now called Xe — to join us on the broadcast; they didn’t get back to us. But they did respond to Scott Horton, who wrote a piece in The Daily Beast.

The Xe spokesperson stated, “The brief filed by Plaintiffs includes two anonymous affidavits that state their ‘information’ has been provided to the Justice Department — we can gauge the credence given to those statements, which hold no water.”

Xe goes on to say, “When the indictments were announced, the [United States] attorney made a point of stating [that] ‘[t]he indictment does not charge or implicate Blackwater Worldwide’; ‘[i]t charges only the actions of certain employees for their roles in the September 16 shooting.’ He emphasized [that] the indictment was ‘very narrow in its allegations’: ‘Six individual Blackwater guards have been charged with unjustified shootings… not the entire Blackwater organization in Baghdad. There were 19 Blackwater guards on the… team that day…. Most acted professionally, responsibly, and honorably. Indeed, this indictment should not be read as accusation against any of those brave men and women who risk their lives as Blackwater security contractors.’”

And the statement ends by saying, “It is obvious that Plaintiffs have chosen to slander Mr. Prince rather than raise legal arguments or actual facts that will be considered by a court of law. We are happy to engage them there.”

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. Well, I mean, first of all, anyone who knows anything about federal criminal investigations and grand juries knows that there can, at any given time, be multiple grand juries. Yes, it’s true that there was a grand jury that ultimately produced indictments of five Blackwater individuals over the Nisoor Square shooting. But, as a source that I have within the US Justice Department told me, there can always be other grand juries. So just because that was the outcome of that particular grand jury does not mean that there’s not a grand jury sitting right now. In fact, when I called the US attorney in — the US attorney’s office in Washington, DC, working on this story, they said to me that they could not confirm or deny any action they may or may not be taking against uncharged individuals, and also said that, you know, “To be clear here, there was a grand jury there, but it doesn’t mean that there’s not a grand jury; we just can’t confirm or deny a grand jury.” So, you know, Blackwater is kind of playing with the facts there and playing with how the process actually works.

The reality is that we understand from the very pro-Blackwater book that was written by CNN executive producer, with Erik Prince’s cooperation, that Gary Jackson, the president of the company, has received some form of a target letter from the Department of Justice. And there’s a buzz going on right now in the circles of folks who follow this closely that there are more indictments of Blackwater figures that are going to be forthcoming. Whether or not Prince is going to be indicted is a totally different story. I do know, though, Amy, from talking to folks on Capitol Hill, that there is great interest in the Intelligence Committee and the Oversight Committee to pursue the allegations laid out by these two individuals in these sworn affidavits.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Obama’s overall policy around private contractors, the military contractors?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. I mean, I watched your interview with Henry Waxman, and I give him credit for the work that he did on this. I mean, he was on Blackwater’s case from 2003 until his role at the Oversight Committee ended and he moved on to Energy and Commerce. And Waxman and Jan Schakowsky and others, Dennis Kucinich, fought hard to try to have these kinds of forces banned for use by the US government abroad. They wanted all these jobs to be done by the US military. They lost in that battle.

Ironically, Hillary Clinton, as a senator, was the single most important US political figure to call for a ban of Blackwater and actually co-signed legislation with Bernie Sanders, Jan Schakowsky and a handful of others to try to end the use of these kinds of mercenary forces. Now Hillary Clinton is guarded by these very forces as Secretary of State and has not moved to end their use.

In fact, Obama, in Afghanistan, is expanding the use of these forces by 29 percent in the second quarter of this year, and it continues to grow. The Washington Post just had — did a big story about how the number of private forces is swelling, as the US troop levels grow in Afghanistan. In Iraq, they continue to play a very, very significant role. And I think that it’s important to note, Blackwater continues to do business with the federal government under Barack Obama. That should be a scandal on Capitol Hill, particularly in light of these allegations that have come forth. There needs to be congressional investigations once again.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, award-winning investigative journalist, author of the bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His latest article is online at thenation.com online. Also, Democracy Now! correspondent.

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