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West Michigan Media Responds to New Blackwater Allegations

August 5, 2009

Within the last 24 hours it has been reported that Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, is being accused of committing murder. Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, broke the story yesterday that 2 former Blackwater employees testified under oath in a Virginia federal court.

Blackwater has been under investigation for some time over charges of killing several Iraqi civilians during a contract operation in September of 2007. In the new allegations, the former Blackwater employees now are stating that Erik Prince ordered Blackwater operatives to kill people who were going to provide information on the September 2007 civilian shootings committed by Blackwater contracted workers. Democracy Now! has posted the transcripts from both former Blackwater employees, who are referred to in court documents as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2.

The other major revelation in the court testimony from John Doe 1 & 2 is that Erik Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe”:

To that end, Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.

Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince’s executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to “lay Hajiis out on cardboard.” Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince’s employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as “ragheads” or “hajiis.”

West Michigan Media Reactions

So far there has been a significant amount of local news media response to the allegations that Holland, MI native Erik Prince ordered the murder of Iraqi civilians. The Grand Rapids Press posting on Wednesday afternoon does provide the basics around these new allegations and even includes part of the interview that MSNBC did with journalist Jeremy Scahill. This is a significant improvement from previous GR Press coverage when Prince spoke in Grand Rapids or when the Grand Rapids Press did a feature on Blackwater founder Erik Prince in 2007. It is interesting that the Press now considers Scahill a credible source, considering the very short article they did on Scahill when he spoke in Holland in May of 2007.

The leader in local TV news, WOOD TV8, has a very short piece on their website that provides limited information about the allegations and only cites CNN as a source on the story. WOOD TV8 also does not mention anything about the comments from the two former employees in regards to the company seeing its mission as a Christian crusade. WZZM 13 had a much shorter story on these allegations and they also ignore the Christian crusade aspect of the story.

WXMI 17 (as of 2:30pm) had no stories online about the new Blackwater allegations. Instead, the lead story was that Paula Abdul was quitting American Idol. WOOD Radio also had no information on the Blackwater story as of Wednesday afternoon on either their local or national news sections.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. john permalink
    August 5, 2009 7:29 pm

    This is the actual article from the Press on the Blackwater allegations, not the Internet posting:

    http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2009/08/blackwater_prince_allegations.html

    While it is fine and dandy that the Press included information from MSNBC on their website, I think the primary focus should be on what they run in the actual paper. Troy Reimink who wrote the online piece you reference seems to regularly collect web-only resources on a variety of stories and then post them on the Press’s site. By contrast, the article by Jacob Carpenter in The Press (linked above in this comment), makes no reference to Scahill as the source of the story. The story includes the allegations in detail–that is different from flattering coverage of Prince in the past–but I don’t think it is really an “improvement” over coverage of Jeremy Scahill back in 2007. Nor do I think it has anything to do with the Press now considering Scahill to be a credible source, rather, I think they are more into running criticisms now because A) Blackwater’s fortunes have changed due to the September 2007 incident and more recent revelations; B) this comes from grand jury testimony.

  2. August 5, 2009 7:59 pm

    John, thanks for pointing out the original story that ran in the Press. What I meant by an improvement is that the story was willing to treat allegations in a serious way, which as you say may have to do with the ongoing criticisms of Blackwater and the most recent allegations. In previous coverage, even after the original September 2007 stories, the Press treatment has been pretty tepid, always seeming to give Prince the benefit of the doubt. It will be interesting to see as this story unfolds whether or not the West Michigan news media will actually provide any substantive reporting on what are essentially war crimes.

  3. Lana Boldi permalink
    August 6, 2009 10:16 am

    I watched the MSNBC report last night on Countdown, and I thought that it was very good. Keith Olberman does not pull any punches. The only thing that wasn’t mentioned was that Prince is related to Betsy DeVos, and thus connected to the millions of dollars that go to the national republican party from Richard DeVos. Does anyone doubt that that is how he got his contract from the Bush Administration to begin with. What makes me a bit nervous is that the US still has a contract with Prince, and his company is still in the war zones.

  4. Jeff Smith permalink*
    August 6, 2009 1:27 pm

    Thanks for your comments Lana. Actually, Blackwater did get its first contracts during the later part of the Clinton years for domestic training of law enforcement agencies. The overseas military contracts did begin after 9/11 in part because of the Prince/DeVos family connections to the Bush administration. I agree that we should be concerned with ongoing US government contracts with Blackwater, who are operating in Afghanistan and several other countries.

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