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2010-06-17

Jeremy Scahill on Blackwater Owner Erik Prince’s Rumored Move to UAE and Obama Admin’s Expansion of Special Forces Operations Abroad

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The Justice Department has told a federal appeals court there was more than enough untainted evidence to justify a trial for the five Blackwater Worldwide guards involved in the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre in Baghdad. In court papers seeking to reinstate criminal charges that were dismissed last year, the Justice Department said the judge "unjustifiably drew the curtain on a meritorious prosecution." This legal development comes amidst a report that Erik Prince, the owner and founder of the notorious private security firm, could be planning a move to the United Arab Emirates, a country that has no extradition treaty with the United States. We speak to independent journalist Jeremy Scahill. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

JUAN GONZALEZ:

The Justice Department has told a federal appeals court there was more than enough untainted evidence to justify a trial for five Blackwater Worldwide guards involved in the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre in Baghdad. In December, Federal Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed all charges against the Blackwater guards. But in court papers seeking to reinstate criminal charges, the Justice Department said the judge, quote, "unjustifiably drew the curtain on a meritorious prosecution."

This legal development comes amidst a report that Erik Prince, the owner and founder of the notorious private security firm, could be planning a move to the United Arab Emirates, a country that has no extradition treaty with the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: According to independent journalist Jeremy Scahill, three separate sources "close to Blackwater and Prince" say Prince is planning a move to the UAE as Blackwater’s legal troubles continue to grow. Five of Prince’s deputies were indicted on weapons charges in April. Just last week, Prince announced he’s putting Blackwater up for sale, because he no longer wants to deal with the intense criticism the business has faced. A Blackwater spokesperson refused to confirm or deny whether Prince is planning a move abroad.

For more, we’re joined by independent journalist Jeremy Scahill. He’s a Nation Institute fellow and Democracy Now! correspondent and author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Jeremy, welcome. What’s the latest you know about Blackwater?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, as you mentioned, the Justice Department has appealed this very high-profile dismissal by this judge of what was probably the most prominent case of private US forces massacring Iraqi civilians, the Nisoor Square shooting. And the way that these individuals got off, essentially, was the way that Oliver North was able to avoid criminal prosecution or culpability for his involvement in Iran-Contra. It involved the State Department preemptively giving the men who did the shooting at Nisoor Square immunity before they even did a full investigation, and that essentially, or effectively, sabotaged the Justice Department’s efforts to prosecute them.

Now it seems as though the Justice Department — I read the brief. It’s 140 pages long, and they go through and make their case as to why they think it was wrong that the judge threw it out. So, clearly the Justice Department has Blackwater in its sights. Not only are the five top deputies under Prince now facing a fifteen-count indictment that includes allegations that there was an attempt to bribe Jordanian officials, that they hid weapons from ATF investigators, that they conspired to obstruct justice in the investigation of their possession of automatic weapons on their private military base in Moyock, North Carolina, but what’s happening now is that these five Blackwater individuals, their lawyers have indicated, at bond hearings and other interactions with the judge in this case where the five Blackwater officials have been indicted, that they were being directed by an unnamed US government agency to do everything that they did. And one could presume that that agency was the Central Intelligence Agency. And my understanding is that Blackwater had two separate armories at its compound in North Carolina: one that was for sort of public, what they call "Vanilla Blackwater," and then the other, which was for their OGA, their other government agency business, which is CIA and Joint Special Operations Command.

And this raises an issue as to why Prince might be going to the United Arab Emirates. I didn’t only hear this from people within Blackwater; I heard it from people that know Prince’s family, that are connected, in a way that I can’t explain publicly, to the Prince family, that he has been planning now for a while to move to the United Arab Emirates. There’s no extradition treaty. The United Arab Emirates does not have an extradition treaty with the United States. Prince knows that there is a strong possibility that he either will be the target of an investigation or could possibly face indictment on anything ranging from the allegations about weapons smuggling to issues that were raised by former Blackwater employees in sworn affidavits last August, namely that Prince may have been involved with murder and with facilitating the murder of individuals who were cooperating with the federal investigation into Blackwater.

The other thing about the United Arab Emirates is that this is a — it’s made up of seven sort of states, smaller states, the two biggest being Abu Dhabi and Dubai. And this is basically just a tax-free haven for massive US war corporations and oil corporations. Halliburton, of course, in 2007 announced it was moving to the United Arab Emirates. Many companies have set up shop there as part of the so-called war on terror, because the royal families there protect their friends from any kind of legal accountability, and they provide them with an opportunity to essentially avoid the US tax system and US accountability. So a lot of companies have set up shop there. So if Prince wanted to sort of get a new family, so to speak, he could easily pick one of the royal families in the United Arab Emirates.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Jeremy, the potential for any of these people who are now indicted of turning, in essence, and providing —-

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, yeah.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —- because they obviously have information about Prince themselves?

JEREMY SCAHILL: You know, most of these individuals that have been indicted are hard-nosed former military people. And my understanding, from sources that are familiar with this criminal — federal criminal investigation, have said that none of them have flipped on what they call "the Prince," Erik Prince, as of yet. Maybe one of the lower people would flip on him, but right now it seems as though it’s sort of — you know, it would require a Jack Nicholson moment in A Few Good Men, where it’s, you know, “You can’t handle the truth.”

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, the expansion of special forces? We just have about a minute.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, yeah. The Obama administration has dramatically expanded the use of special forces across the world, not just in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. US Special Forces are operating in seventy-five countries around the world. And Obama took Bush-era authorizations. There was an al-Qaeda network execute order that was issued in 2003 that was a favorite of the neocons that basically said US special forces can operate anywhere around the world, as long as they say they’re hunting al-Qaeda. Obama now has taken that order and pushed it beyond what the Bush people even did.

Many of these missions are small-scale US special forces attaching themselves to foreign militaries or friendly forces in nations around the world. But there’s also a task force that McChrystal used to head that used to be classified as Task Force 714. It recently was renamed, my sources tell me. And they’re the ones carrying out unilateral direct actions, the assassinations for the Joint Special Operations Command. And as Daniel Ellsberg talked about, this administration has allowed JSOC to maintain a hit list that includes US citizens, not just the CIA. What’s happened is here is that McChrystal represents the rise of the dark side, and Obama has taken a man that was used to operating with no accountability on the dark side of the US national security apparatus and made him the commander of the entire war in Afghanistan with carte blanche to do what he wants in that region. The combination of him and David Petraeus, who’s Cheney’s general, means that you have the dark side now essentially running the US military.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Nation fellow, correspondent for Democracy Now!

That does it for our broadcast. If you want to hear our continued conversation with Jeremy, you can go online at democracynow.org.

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