Blackwater 2: Prince Appears in Public Long Enough to Lie to Congress

My planned Part 2 of a little series on Blackwater having been blown out of the water by a much more comprehensive piece in Salon, I will attempt to recover by shifting my focus a bit to CEO Erik Prince’s disingenuous testimony before Henry Waxman’s House Oversight and Govt Reform Committee yesterday. Which was, to say the least, a bit of stuff. You can see a vid of his opening statement here, and if you listen closely you can hear his first outrageous lie raise its ugly head barely 30 secs in, and that includes 23 secs of swearing in (in which Waxman screws up when administering the oath, asking him to “promise to swear to tell the truth”, which, if he’s a stickler like Gonzo, could conceivably mean he’s absolved from perjury charges since he didn’t actually swear but only promised to swear – you’ll see in a minute why that might have mattered if we had a real Congress).

In only the second sentence – 8 secs – into his statement, Prince insists that Blackwater contractors operate “under the direction and oversight of the United States government”. As we have seen this past week, that’s patently untrue. Blackwater, thanks to Paul Bremer, a puppet Iraqi govt, and a conservative US judge, is accountable to no one, supervised by no one, and if it’s “directed” by some US govt entity, this is the first anyone’s heard of it.

But that’s only the first half of the sentence. The next lie, though implied, is in the second half when he strongly hints that Blackwater is staffed by Americans who are “military and law enforcement veterans with a record of honorable service” to whom Blackwater is giving an opportunity “to continue their support for the United States.” Just barely. The implication that Blackwater contractors in Iraq are “Americans guarding Americans” is…misleading. As a Guardian article pointed out in March of ’04, Blackwater in fact uses foreign mercs regularly and even goes looking for them, in this case, from Pinochet’s Chilean military.

The US is hiring mercenaries in Chile to replace its soldiers on security duty in Iraq. A Pentagon contractor has begun recruiting former commandos, other soldiers and seamen, paying them up to $4,000 (?2,193) a month to guard oil wells against attack by insurgents.

Last month Blackwater USA flew a first group of about 60 former commandos, many of who had trained under the military government of Augusto Pinochet, from Santiago to a 2,400-acre (970-hectare) training camp in North Carolina.

From there they will be taken to Iraq, where they are expected to stay between six months and a year, the president of Blackwater USA, Gary Jackson, told the Guardian by telephone.

“We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals – the Chilean commandos are very, very professional and they fit within the Blackwater system,” he said.

These Chilean “commandos” were part of Pinochet’s counterterrorism force, otherwise known as the Death Squads, and they’re not the only ones. Other sources report that veterans of military death squads and other foreign “counter-insurgency forces” have been hired by Blackwater and other contractors in such large numbers that in an LA Times report from July of ’05, Peter Singer of the Brookings Institute was able to identify hundreds of these foreign ex-military working as contractors in Iraq that included Fijians, Ukrainians, South Africans, Nepalese, Serbs, Colombians, Filipinos, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Nicaraguans.

“What’s wrong with them using their skills, their know-how in Iraq?” asked David Spencer, a Washington-based security consultant who has spent nine years working in Colombia. “It’s good for the Colombian because he makes more money than he could make in Colombia, and it’s good for the [U.S.] contractor because he has to pay less than he’d pay an American.”

Well, part of the problem, as an Illinois Democratic Rep put it, is that we’re training all these people.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) was concerned “that U.S. government contractors [were] hiring thousands of impoverished former military personnel, with no public scrutiny, little accountability and large hidden costs to taxpayers.”

***

“The United States has spent more than $4 billion since 2000 on Plan Colombia, a counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics program that includes training and support for the Colombian police and military. Last month, Congress moved toward approval of an additional $734.5 million in aid to the Andean region in 2006, most of it for Colombia. ‘We’re training foreign nationals – who then take that training and market it to private companies, who pay them three or four times as much as we’re paying soldiers,’ Schakowsky said. ‘American taxpayers are paying for the training of those Colombian soldiers,’ she said. ‘When they leave to take more lucrative jobs, perhaps with an American military contractor, they take that training with them. So then we’re paying to train that person’s replacement. And then we’re paying the bill to the private military contractors’.”

A very large bill. Ben Van Heuvelen in Salon notes that “[f]rom 2001 to 2007, the firm has increased its annual federal contracts from less than $1 million to more than $500 million“. To pay people from other countries that we’ve already trained, people who belonged to death squads and murderous counter-insurgency teams with “honorable service” killing thousands of their own people on behalf of dictatorships. Not quite the picture Prince was trying to promote.

The next lie is a doozy. Prince claims that “after 9/11…the government called upon Blackwater to provide protective services in hostile areas”. Not quite.

Robert Young Pelton, author of “Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror,” has reported that one of Blackwater’s earliest contracts in the national arena was a no-bid $5.4 million deal to provide security guards in Afghanistan, which came after Prince made a call to then CIA executive director Buzzy Krongard.

(emphasis added)

Prince solicited his first contract. He wasn’t “called upon” – he was the one who did the calling.

He then makes reference to some 30 deaths of Blackwater personnel in Iraq, saying “The entire Blackwater family mourns the loss of these brave lives. Our thoughts and our prayers are with their families.” What he skips right over are the lawsuits some of those families are pursuing against Blackwater, charging that the company was far more concerned with saving money than with protecting its employees. According to SourceWatch:

Blackwater has been sued by families of the contractors killed in Falluja in March 2004. The case marks the first time a company has been sued for deaths in the line of work. As Peter W. Singer states, this lawsuit, or one like it, was inevitable and necessary to establish some of the legal groundwork regarding contractors and PMCs on the battlefield.

The case is still in court. This clip from Robert Greenwald’s documentary, Iraq For Sale, highlights the basis for the families’ suit. Blackwater did NOTHING it promised to do.

But it gets worse. at the 2:40 mark, after reminding the Committee that his people are the guys who protect “visiting members of Congress”, Prince makes the remarkable claim that Blackwater “is already subject to numerous statutes, treaties, and regulations of the United States.” It would be helpful if he mentioned what they were considering no one else can find them, but, unhappily, he doesn’t.

A few seconds later (3:03 mark), he declares that his contracts were “competitively awarded”. They weren’t. Most of them were no-bid, ladled out like soup by political appointees in the Pentagon, beginning with, naturally, Bremer.

Prince’s most important benefactor was fellow conservative Roman Catholic convert L. Paul Bremer, former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American occupation government in Iraq. In August 2003, Blackwater won a $27.7 million contract to provide personal security for Bremer. In charge of the Blackwater team guarding Bremer was Frank Gallagher, who had provided personal security for former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger when Bremer was managing director of Kissinger’s consulting firm, Kissinger and Associates, in the 1990s.

The contract was arranged sub rosa by Bremer. There were no other bidders.

Less than 15 secs later, he says Blackwater personnel “in Iraq report to the Embassy’s regional Security Officer, or RSO”. He adds, “All Blackwater movements and operations are directed by the RSO.” My question is, does the RSO know this? Because until this moment there has been no suggestion by anyone anywhere that a US embassy functionary is “directing” Blackwater. Is Prince, like, making this up as he goes along? Or has he found a convenient Bushie scapegoat to take the heat?

Could be. The next sentence dumps the whole thing in this mythical RSO’s lap.

The RSO ensures that Blackwater complies with all relevant contractual terms and conditions as well as any applicable laws and regulations.

So it’s his/her fault if Blackwater screwed up.

At the very end, Prince offered some stats a tad different from those discovered by the Committee.

The House committee staff found that Blackwater employees had fired their weapons 195 times since early 2005….

According to Prince, there were 54 in 2006 and 130 in 2005. which he characterized as 3% of missions in the former case and less than 1% of missions in the latter. Well, maybe. They add up to 184 rather than 195, not a huge discrepancy, but still a little fudging is going on, not to mention spin.

But even if you give him the benefit of the doubt for the stats, the rest of his statement is a string of lies. He is so sure he’s untouchable, so confident of his high-level protection, that he felt no compunction about filling his statement with falsehoods and misdirection.

And he’s probably right.

(to be concluded)

5 Responses to “Blackwater 2: Prince Appears in Public Long Enough to Lie to Congress”

  1. Yeah, I hate it when my thunder gets stolen too.

    Good post, can’t wait for the wrap up.

  2. cavedog says:

    http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/10/01/blackwater.report/

    Mythical RSO? Um, so where did the .pdf under “initial State Department Spot Report” come from? It says RSO Baghdad. Interesting quote from this report:

    “The Iraqis had large caliber machine guns pointed at TST22, who informed the RSO TOC of the situation.”

    Imagine that. In the middle of a massacre and they managed to conduct a tactical seance to speak to a mythical RSO. These guys really are good.

  3. mick says:

    You misunderstood. I thought this –

    My question is, does the RSO know this? Because until this moment there has been no suggestion by anyone anywhere that a US embassy functionary is “directing” Blackwater.

    – made it clear that what I meant was “mythical” was the idea that this RSO had any power over what Blackwater does. I also suggested that Prince might be trying to hand the Committee a scapegoat, hardly something one could do with a myth.

    You guys are awfully literal, aren’t you? Does the word “context” mean anything to you? Or the phrase “reading skills”?

    For instance, did you notice that Darren Hamner, the “RSO” who wrote and signed the spot report, is also identified as a “Blackwater contractor” and that the corporation is removing him from Iraq just as the “investigation” gets started?

    If you’re defending their behavior, you picked a strange source.

  4. cavedog says:

    Not at all defending their behavior, if it was in fact inappropriate. But I’m also not about to hang them on prejudices. And fair enough, I did misunderstand the context, for which I apologize. However, if by “mythical” you didn’t mean “imaginary,” a better choice of words could have been used.

    What I really don’t get though is why people are so excited about Blackwater personnel being removed from Iraq. Its not as if they’re being flown to non-extradition countries post-haste, and I personally want anyone involved out of the country immediately so they don’t get a chance to screw something up again.

  5. mick says:

    However, if by “mythical” you didn’t mean “imaginary,” a better choice of words could have been used.

    Well, “imaginary” wouldn’t have helped. It would still appear to mean something I didn’t want it to mean. But I’ll take the note: it was an inelegant and confusing locution.

    There are two problems with personnel removal:

    1) Blackwater has been removing people so quickly that investigations into questionable incidents have been effectively short-circuited because key players were unavailable. It’s one of the things that’s been pissing off the Iraqi govt. They read it as deliberate protection of the company, much as we read it when a Mafia suspect suddenly disappears when an investigation into his activities starts. We assume the Organization removed him before he became an embarrassment or to protect their own activities/interests. And to keep him from turning state’s evidence against them.

    2) In effect, they are being flown to a non-extradition country since the State Dept has never forced a contractor under suspicion by the Iraqis for illegal activities to be returned to Iraq once he’s back in the US. Those requests are routinely denied. And the decision of the Circuit judge in the Custer Battles case (unless it’s overturned) makes it impossible to prosecute them here for anything they did there.

    There have been numerous pieces written lately on how State goes out of its way to protect both Blackwater and its contractors. For the reasons, read the Salon article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook