Author Jeremy Scahill Speaks About "Blackwater" at Naro

-from The Mace & Crown

jeremy scahill

“Blackwater is like a high-end boutique in a row of Wal-Marts. It’s not the biggest or the cheapest, but it’s recognized as the best at what it does.”

Jeremy Scahill, author of best-seller “Blackwater: The Rise of the Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” published last February, spoke about Blackwater USA, a private contracted army operating in Iraq, Sept. 26 to a packed Naro audience.

The show was presented by the Naro’s Green Screen Film Festival and the Norfolk Catholic Worker.

As covered in last weeks Mace & Crown (“Bad moon rises over Blackwater”), the attack on Sept. 16 was first on Scahill’s mind.

He described the day in detail, in which current estimates include over 20 killed, including eye-witness testimony and how Iraqis were not corroborating with the official story produced by Blackwater and supported by the Bush administration.

“I was amazing, [Iraqi Prime Minister] al-Maliki thought for 3 hours he was in control,” said Scahill in response to Maliki demanding Blackwater to leave Iraq, which drew laughter from the crowd, “until he received a call from Condoleezza Rice who made it clear that Iraq is not a sovereign nation” and had no authority in whether Blackwater stays in Iraq or not.

Blackwater is currently fulfilling contracts in Iraq again.

Scahill detailed the intricacies of Blackwater’s ties to the Bush White House, which according to him explained the pushback his administration gave the media and Iraqis in support of Blackwater and private contractors in general.

“The United States is essentially a ‘junior partner’ in Iraq with 170,000 troops compared to private contracted mercenaries totaling 180,000” said Scahill.

Scahill describes Blackwater as, essentially, a “free market experiment.” The United States is placing the lives of senior officials like former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Iraq war architect Paul Bremer in the hands of security contractors, letting the market provide the best source.

Scahill, prior to his speech at the Naro according to the Virginian-Pilot, has appeared over the past week on CNN, ABC, CBS, PBS, NPR, BBC, C-SPAN, and Al-Jazeera to discuss Blackwater and mercenary tendencies of the US government.

Blackwater first burst on the scene on March 31, 2004 when 4 employees of Blackwater were killed, burned and strung onto over a bridge in Fallujah. The event made national headlines and prompted President Bush to lay siege to the city.

According to Scahill, Bush’s actions led directly to many Iraqis picking up arms against the United States in mass numbers.

The US Congress has now begun multiple investigations. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) has begun to question the need of Blackwater opening investigation on the company. Virginia Senator Jim Webb has also produced legislation to curtail massive troop redeployments.

Kathryn Helvenston, mother of Stephen Helvenston who was one of the 4 killed on March 31st, was invited by Scahill to speak about her wrongful death lawsuit against Blackwater for not following through with contractual obligations in terms of safety that day in Fallujah. She is being countersued for $10 million dollars.

Eric Prince, who began Blackwater in 1996 and has not made a public appearance in 10 years, was supposed to be questioned by Congress on Oct. 2 until Condoleezza Rice contacted Prince and told him he did not have to cooperate with Waxman.

“Apparently Blackwater can get away with murder, literally,” said Helvenston.

Currently 3,800 Americans have been killed since 2003 including over 1 million Iraqi civilians, according to Just Foreign Policy.

Scahill comments on American military responding to his book, which has reached No. 9 on the New York Times best-seller list.

Talking to soldiers, Scahill learns troops in Iraq are upset with Blackwater because their arrogance creates revenge attacks on US military in response to Blackwater actions. American troops also feel that Blackwater soldiers degrade the name of the United States military.

Other controversies with Blackwater include recruitment of former soldiers of Pinochet’s brutal regime in Chile, bankrolled by the United States; the payment of Columbian soldiers $30 dollars an hour and promising families 1 million dollars if their loved one dies; and a celebratory video in Najif in which Blackwater soldiers referred to the killing of Iraqis as a “fucking turkey hunt.”

Questions following the symposium professed optimism that a Democratically-elected president will curb Blackwater and the use of private contractors. Scahill would not put that much faith in the system.

“It all comes down to corporate profits being linked to war making and escalation,” said Scahill. Democrats and Republicans both enjoy massive funding from private corporations and have no reason to pull support except in the generalist of senses.

Near the end, Scahill discussed the Virginia Tech massacre saying we felt empathy because we learned names, saw faces, heard of their talents and interests. He feels that all Americans would demand an end to the war in Iraq if each citizen killed was given a name and a face.

Portions of Robert Greenwald’s “Iraq for Sale” and Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque’s “Shadow Company” were shown.

Scahill dismisses a question about Blackwater FEMA relocation camps although Blackwater has a heavy presence in post-Katrina New Orleans. Scahill wants an end to the misinformation of Blackwater so the ones trying to bring the facts to life won’t have a harder time.

“There is no need for rumors, the truth is bad enough.”

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~ by Daniel on September 26, 2007.

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