It sounds like fodder for a Hollywood thriller: A shadowy company in the business of supplying mercenaries starts knocking off witnesses who were attempting to implicate fanatical, avaricious corporate honchos they claimed were involved in all sorts of nefarious deeds.
But instead of being found in a screenplay, this potboiler of a plot unfolds in the Aug. 4 edition of The Nation, which takes aim at the company formerly known as Blackwater USA and its co-founder, Michigan's own Erik Prince.
The piece is written by Jeremy Scahill, author of the disturbing bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Metro Times talked with Scahill for a story we did about mercenaries, oops, military contractors, a few years back ("Soldiers of fortune" May 9, 2007). And we've been interested in the Prince family since the mid-1990s, when we wrote about major players from Michigan's right-wing Christian movement attempting to change the state Constitution so that public money could be used to help finance parochial schools.
Two of the big behind-the-scenes movers in that effort were the DeVos clan, whose fortune stems from the Amway direct-marketing corporation, and the family of the late Edgar Prince, who became fabulously wealthy as an auto parts and machinery manufacturer. The two dynasties merged, as it were, when Dick DeVos (who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2006) married Betsy Prince (former head of the Michigan Republican Party.)
Erik Prince, Betsy's brother, is a former Navy SEAL who co-founded Blackwater back in 1997. Earlier this year, as a group of his employees were slapped with manslaughter charges connected with the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, the company attempted to re-brand itself by changing its name to Xe (pronounced "zee"). Whatever the name, though, Prince and his company have long been the center of controversy. But the new allegations being reported by Scahill are the most explosive yet.
The investigative reporter discloses allegations made in two sworn statements submitted in connection with five civil suits brought by Iraqi civilians suing Blackwater "for alleged war crimes and other misconduct." A federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia recently consolidated the cases.
In a 70-page brief filed last week by Susan Burke, a private attorney representing the Iraqi civilians and working in conjunction with the nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights (Detroit attorney Bill Goodman is a former legal director), there are two sworn statements from men identified only as "John Doe #1" and "John Doe #2."
Their true identities have been sealed, according to court documents, because of concern for their safety. If what's being alleged is true, they have reason to be worried.
According to Scahill's story, the two men claim that "Erik Prince may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities" investigating his company.
The statements, filed under penalty of perjury, reportedly come from a former Blackwater employee and a former U.S. Marine who has "worked as a security operative for the company."
Although they didn't respond directly to allegations made in the sworn statements, Blackwater attorneys have sought to have the five lawsuits dismissed, asserting that Prince and the company "are innocent of any wrongdoing and that they were professionally performing their duties on behalf of their employer, the U.S. State Department," according to Scahill's article.
As is often the case with wealthy movers and shakers on the Christian right, doing the Lord's work and turning a handsome profit allegedly have meshed nicely at Blackwater.
Prince, who has deep roots in the Dutch Reformed Church, which has a strong base in western Michigan, "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," according to the sworn statement submitted by the former Blackwater employee.
At the same time, it is alleged that Blackwater was involved in smuggling illegal weapons into Iraq, sometimes on "Mr. Prince's private planes, which operated under the name Presidential Airlines." In one of the sworn statements, it was noted that the alleged gun running "generated substantial revenues."
U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) offered Scahill this perspective on Prince's outfit and the bigger picture it represents:
"Blackwater is a law unto itself, both internationally and domestically. The question is why they operated with impunity. In addition to Blackwater, we should be questioning their patrons in the previous administration who funded and employed this organization. Blackwater wouldn't exist without federal patronage; these allegations should be thoroughly investigated."News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]