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Blackwater author, Jeremy Scahill addresses packed audience in Holland

May 6, 2010

Last night, Jeremy Scahill, investigative journalist and author of the book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, spoke in Holland to over 200 people.  Scahill’s talk was just hours after Erik Prince spoke at the Tulip Time Festival luncheon.

Scahill began by saying that the message that Prince gives for the public is different than what he gives to private, conservative groups like the one at U of M, which was taped and sent to the Nation magazine, the publication Scahill writes for.

Much of what Scahill said in his talk is in the analysis he wrote about a few days ago for the Nation, which is worth reading in its entirety. One point that the journalist emphasized throughout the night was that using private mercenary forces means there is no accountability for the politicians who don’t want to be held accountable.

Scahill wasn’t just referring to Bush & Cheney, but to the current members of Congress and the Obama administration. In fact, Scahill said that under President  Obama, private military contractors have increased in Afghanistan, from 70,000 a year ago to 104,000 today.

The Blackwater author also said that Prince uses people who have worked in the intelligence community – the CIA, FBI and DEA. Blackwater provides body guards for US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and to other US diplomats when traveling to Afghanistan. This means that members of Congress, when visiting Afghanistan on a fact finding mission, the same Congress which has been investigating Blackwater, is guarded by that private mercenary group when in Afghanistan.

Scahill says that when the FBI investigated the Iraq killings from 2007, in which Blackwater was accused of killing innocent Iraqi civilians, the FBI agents were going to be guarded by Blackwater personnel. Blackwater controls four forward operating bases in Afghanistan, according to Scahill and even bragged that they have the closest base to Pakistan. Blackwater was responsible for making the biggest drug bust ever in Afghanistan and they called in air strikes from NATO. Scahill asks the rhetorical question – “how can a private company call in air strikes from NATO?”

Scahill mentioned that during Prince’s talk at the Tulip Time Festival that the Blackwater CEO said that no one has died who was being protected by Blackwater security people. The author said that there were 8 CIA agents killed in Afghanistan recently who were under the protection of Blackwater.

Then Scahill tells the story about an Iraqi, Mohammad Kanani. Kanani welcomed US troops in 2003 when they arrived in Baghdad and was a supporter of the US occupation. In 2007 he took his son near downtown Baghdad one day where they came to a stop at an intersection. Gunfire opened and people were killed, and Kanani’s car was shot and his son was hit. The Iraqi man got out of his car to go to the other side and saw his son’s limp body. “My son, my son, they’ve killed my son,” he cried out. His brain had been shot out. The people that shot Ali Kanani that day were Blackwater mercenaries. This story that Scahill was recounting was Nisour Square shootings, where 17 Iraqi civilians were killed by Blackwater personnel. Scahill said we never hear the details of these killings, because the media in this country does not really care about the lives of innocent people that US soldiers and mercenaries take in these wars.

Scahill went on to say that they originally offered Mohammad hey $10,000 in compensation for the loss of his son. Originally said no, but later he said yes and gave half of the money to the US military to pay for a soldiers’ funeral. The US courts let the Blackwater personnel responsible for the killings go free. Mohammad Kanani said that the only thing he wanted was a public apology from Erik Prince, because Prince had said during the Congressional hearings that he believes that some Iraqis kill themselves so that they can collect money from the US government. Mohammad was so outraged by this statement that he demanded an apology, but Prince said that his company does not make apologies.

There is one legal case still open from the Nisour Square killings being held in North Carolina. Scahill said that recently Blackwater asked US Attorney General Eric Holder to step in and take responsibility for the deaths.  He Private mercenary company even said they should be tried in Afghanistan under Sharia law since that is the legal system there.

What about the four Blackwater emplyees who were killed in Falluja? All of them were decorated veterans put in a ridiculously dangerous situation. The families wanted to know what happened that day. Blackwater stonewalled them. Blackwater executives told them they would have to sue the company to get the information, which they did. In turn, Blackwater sued the families for violating the contract that the men had signed.

Scahill concluded his remarks by saying that we could talk until we are blue in the face, but the problem is not just Blackwater, it is a thirst for militarism and US imperial wars. He said that there is a push to privatize all aspects of our country – education, health care, etc and until we address that and the incredible power that corporations wield in this country, we will not solve the problem of companies like Blackwater.

This comment was the most important thing that Scahill said all night, but it was not a statement that people wanted to address during the Q&A. Most of the questions were specific to Blackwater and Prince and not the larger power structure that Scahill exposed.

Lastly, I think it is worth pointing out that at the Price talk yesterday there were dozens of news reporters in attendance. For the Scahill lecture I only saw a reporter from the GR Press and the Holland Sentinel. The Press article was very short and had virtually none of the analysis Scahill provided in his talk. The Holland Sentinel had not posted a story on their website by the time we posted this story.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. EILEEN RIOS permalink
    May 6, 2010 3:05 pm

    I WOULD LIKE TO RECIVE FOLLOW UP COMMENTS.

  2. Jeff Smith permalink*
    May 6, 2010 5:42 pm

    Eileen, what kind of comments are you looking for?

  3. June 6, 2010 7:55 am

    There is a staggering statistic that

    “at any one time, more than 300,000 children are actively fighting as soldiers with government armed forces or armed opposition groups worldwide. Almost half of the states engaged in warfare in 2002 were reported to use combatants under the age of 15. Children under the age of 18 are actively participating in hostilities in more than 35 countries worldwide – most are between the ages of 14 and 17, but some are as young as seven” (The Inter-Agency Planning Consultation on Child Protection in Emergencies, 2006).

    Debate raged in late 1990s about how to address the growing issue of children being used in conflict. The NGO working group in February 1997 issued a working document commonly known as the Paris Principles but fully titled The Paris Commitments to Protect Children from Unlawful Recruitment or use by Armed Forces or Armed Groups. The Paris Principles began the discussion in harmonization and creation of standards for groups working with armed children in conflict, and reintegration. The document also sets out an agenda by which the ngo group could advocate for the rights of armed children in conflict.

    In April 1997, UNICEF and the Group of NGOs organized a conference in Cape Town, South Africa. The document that was produced from this meeting has become known as the “Cape Town Principles and Best Practices,” and was adopted at this symposium as the standard by which groups working with child soldiers or those groups working to prevent recruitment of child soldiers would focus their efforts. The main thrust of the Cape Town Principles was to encourage governments to:

    Adopt a minimum age of 18 years should be established for any person participating in hostilities and for recruitment in all forms into any armed force or armed group.

    Adopt and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, raising the minimum age from 15 to 18 years. (Cape Town Principles)

    84 countries have since signed off on the Paris Principles on but other countries have refused.

    It is important to understand why child soldiers are used and to explore ways in which child recruitment may be curtailed. The phenomenon is, however, very complicated. While some children are abducted and used by a fighting force, others join by choice. Given these realities the questions below may guide our discussion into the world of children in armed conflict.

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