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October 19, 2007

Bill Moyers talks with journalist Jeremy Scahill - Part 2

BILL MOYERS: You say in your book, what is particularly scary, you acknowledge that the Democrats play this game, too, Clinton and so forth. But you write, "What is particularly scary about Blackwater's role in a war that President Bush labeled a crusade is that the company's leading executives are dedicated to a Christian supremacist agenda." Now, you go on and off with the evidence for that in the book. But when I read that, I thought, is that just a coincidence? I mean, Blackwater is not the result of his Christian or religious impulses. I mean, it's a business operation, isn't it?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, I believe that Erik Prince is an ideological foot soldier. And I do believe that he's a Christian supremacist. And I think it's very easy to explain that. I mean, look, this is the guy who gave a half a million dollars to Chuck Colson, the first person to go to jail for Watergate who's now becoming a very prominent evangelical minister and an advisor to President Bush, one of the people behind the safe face initiatives.

And Chuck Colson has said things like when Mohammed wrote the Koran, he had had too many tamales the night before. Also one of the leading executives of Blackwater, Joseph Schnitz is an active member of the Military Order of Malta, a Christian militia dating back to the Crusades. And I believe that these men do have an agenda that very closely reflects adherence to a sort of Crusader doctrine.

BILL MOYERS: You just mentioned something that was obvious as I read your book. I mean, this is the revolving door. Cofer Black, head of counter intelligence at the CIA leaves the government, goes to work as the number two man at Blackwater. Guys leave the Pentagon go to work for him.

JEREMY SCAHILL: It's not a revolving door. It's a bridge. They go back and forth.

BILL MOYERS: I mean, it's not unique? This is true of so many of these companies, right?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. But Blackwater has emerged sort of as the-- it's almost like an armed wing of the administration in Iraq. Because it doesn't work for the Pentagon. It works for the State Department. And the fact that Blackwater is such a politically connected company I think explains why you see this big push back. Because if I was Ambassador Ryan Crocker, I wouldn't want to come within ten countries of the Blackwater body guards. I mean, when your body guards become more of a target than you, maybe it's time to get a different security detail. So, why is it so important to the US government that they keep Blackwater on the job in Iraq? I think part of it is an institutional loyalty. Blackwater is very fond of saying we've never lost a principle. No US diplomat has died under our watch.

BILL MOYERS: He said that over and over on these interviews.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Oh, yeah. Yeah. And of course, and, you know, the Republicans in Congress during the hearings said that's the statistic that's most important. But the question needs to be asked, at what price? When you ride into a village and you shoot at cars that come too close to you, that has a ricochet effect that where, the people whose vehicle you shot at now have a perception of what happens when US diplomats come around. And then, they go and they tell someone else.

And maybe you're one of the families of a victim of the Nisour Square shooting where 17 people were killed and over 25 others were wounded. So, yes, Blackwater can walk around bragging about how they haven't lost a single principle. All of their nouns have been kept alive, as they call it. But at what price? And at what price to the US soldiers in Iraq? You know, I've heard from so many soldiers, veterans who say, you know, we're in a village somewhere. And things are going fine with the Iraqis. And we've reached the point where they're not attacking us anymore. And we feel like there's some good will that's been generated.' And in fact, this is an exact story that a translator attached to a special forces unit told me in an e-mail recently. And he said, you know, and then the PSD guys, the personal security detail guys, they come whizzing through with their VIP and they shoot up the town. And the Iraqis in town don't understand that there's a difference between the private forces and the military. And then they conduct revenge attacks against us. And so, it's having a blow-back effect on the active duty military. The misconduct of these forces.

BILL MOYERS: Isn't it also true that some of our soldiers in Iraq are, quote, going Blackwater?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah. I mean, that's, I learned recently that that's the slang. Even if you're going to work for Triple Canopy or Dyncorps, any company-

BILL MOYERS: Other companies, right?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. You've got other companies operating in Iraq. The slang of the day is going Blackwater.

BILL MOYERS: Which means?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Which means that you're jumping from the active duty military to the private sector. You know, you're gonna be in the same war zone, but you're gonna make a lot more money. And, you know, the troops I talked to also say that these guys are sort of like the rock stars of the war zone. They've got better equipment than us. They have better body armor. I mean, I talk to these kids. And some of them say, you know, I was in Ramadia at the worst time in 2004. And I never stepped foot in an armored vehicle. And we're bolting steel plates and putting down sand bags on the ground to protect against IADs. And we know it's not gonna really do anything, but we need it for our psychology. And then, they see the Blackwater guys or others whiz by with their six figure salaries and their bulging arms and their wrap around sunglasses. And they're the ones sort of bossing around military officials. And there's two reactions. They either resent them and they say, what message is my country sending me when I'm sitting over here, forty thousand dollars. My mom's back home trying to raise money to buy me some real body armor. And then, I see these guys whiz by with their six figure salary wearing the corporate logo instead of the American flag. Or the other reaction is, I want to be like that. I don't want to be over here working for, you know, the third infantry division. I want to go and work for Blackwater or Triple Canopy.

BILL MOYERS: You know, I had a scary thought during the night as I was thinking about talking to you. And I know some people--

JEREMY SCAHILL: That happens to me a lot. (LAUGHTER)

BILL MOYERS: The thought was, you know, suppose we had a national emergency. Suppose the terrorists struck again. And a President, President Hillary Clinton, or President Barack Obama declared marshal law in order to try to deal with this threat. And there was a private army of twenty thousand soldiers that I could call upon to throw a ring around the capital and make sure that the Congress didn't leave town or didn't get back to the capital if-- how far fetched is that?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, I was in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And I think we saw a real window into the possible future. You know, I was standing on a street corner in the French quarter on Bourbon Street. And I was talking to two New York City police officer who had come down to help. And this is just a couple of days after the hurricane had hit. And this car speeds up next to us. No license plates on it, a compact car. And three massive guys get out of it. And they have M-4 assault rifles, bullet proof vests, wearing khakis, wrap around sunglasses, baseball caps on. And they come up and they say to the cops, "Where are the rest of the Blackwater guys?" And my head sort of started, you know, I didn't even hear the answer. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Where are the rest of the Blackwater guys? So, they get back in their vehicle and they speed off. And I said to this cop, Blackwater? You mean the guys in Iraq and Afghanistan? They said, oh, yeah. They're all over the place down here. And so, I said, well, I'd like to talk to them. Where are they? And they said, you can go either way on the street, implying that they're everywhere. So, I walked a little bit deeper into the French quarter. And sure enough, I encountered some Blackwater guys. And when I talked to them, they said that they were down there to confront criminals and stop looters.

BILL MOYERS: Who called them in?

JEREMY SCAHILL: And-- well, this is an interesting story. Erik Prince sent them in there with no contract initially. About 180 Blackwater guys were sent into the Gulf. They got there before FEMA. I don't even know if FEMA's there yet. But they got there before FEMA, before there was any kind of a serious operation in the city at all.

BILL MOYERS: On Prince's own decision?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, so Prince sends them in. Within a week, Blackwater was given a contract from the Department of Homeland Security Federal Protective Service to engage in security operations inside of New Orleans. At one point, Blackwater had six hundred men deployed down there stretching from Mississippi through-- from Texas through Mississippi and the Gulf. They were pulling in $240,000 a day. Some of these guys though had just been in Iraq two weeks earlier guarding the US ambassador. Now, they're in New Orleans. They say, oh, we do this sort of as a vacation. One was complaining to me that there wasn't enough action down here. And when I talked to them, they told me they were getting paid 350 dollars a day, plus a per diem.

BILL MOYERS: By homeland security?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, they were being paid by Blackwater. When I got Blackwater's contract with the Department of Homeland Security, it turns out that Blackwater billed US taxpayers 950 dollars per man per day in the hurricane zone.

BILL MOYERS: A profit margin of 600 dollars.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, the math on this stuff is always complicated. And Erik Prince and his men are very good at drawing up charts and sort of, you know, just saying, well, there's this detail and this detail. The Department of Homeland Security then did an internal review and they determined that it was the best value to the taxpayer, at a time when the poor residents of New Orleans were being chastised for how they used their two thousand dollar debit cards that often didn't work, the ones provided by FEMA. But what was even scarier than seeing the Blackwater operatives on the streets of New Orleans was, I encountered two Israeli commandos who had been brought in by a wealthy businessman in New Orleans and set up an armed checkpoint outside of his gated community. And they were from a company called Instinctive Shooting International. ISI, which is an Israeli company. I mean, and I went up and I talked to them. And they tapped on their automatic weapons and said, you know, over in our country, when the Palestinians see this, they're not so afraid because they're used to it. But you people, you see it, and you're very afraid. They were almost proud of the fact that I was sort of in awe seeing Israeli commandos patrolling a US street, operating in fact an armed check point.

BILL MOYERS: I mean, once upon a time, companies and others hired Pinkerton guards, private guards. But never on this scale, right?

JEREMY SCAHILL: No. I mean, you know, it was like Baghdad on the bayou down there in New Orleans. And-- I mean, this is the point I'm making. The poor drowned. They are left without food. They're called looters when they take perishable goods out of a store when they've been systematically neglected. The rich bring in their mercenaries to guard their properties or their businesses or their hotel chains. And I think it's a window into what happens in a national emergency. And in this country, the poor are left to suffer and die and the rich bring in their mercenaries.

BILL MOYERS: Just the other day, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL had a big story that said Erik Prince is laying plans for an expansion that would put his gunmen in hot spots around the world doing far more than guard duty. What, how do you read that?

JEREMY SCAHILL: They view themselves as peace keepers. They call themselves the peace and stability issue. They certainly have intimated that they would be willing or want to go into Darfur. But they've been pushing this for a while. And I think this is a gateway. And Blackwater executives said, "You send us in, and it'll be Janjaweed be gone."

BILL MOYERS: But suppose they could go in there as mercenaries and bring an end to that conflict. And get food in for those refugees in a way that the United States government can't do.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, what does that say though about the structure of the world? What does it say about nation states and international institutions? I mean, the Bush administration has so maligned the United Nations and rendered it irrelevant and pulled the rug out from under it in so many ways. And I think that the last thing that is needed in Darfur is more private guns. I mean, who's to say that's what would happen if Blackwater gets sent into Darfur in the first place? I mean, who's gonna be monitoring them and overseeing them? I don't buy that the mercenaries are the solution to the crisis in Darfur. I--

BILL MOYERS: But Erik Prince told all of these-- journalists, "We want more accountability. We welcome it."

JEREMY SCAHILL: This is one thing that I find fascinating. When Blackwater was sued-- for wrongful death from the four guys killed in Fallujah in March of '04 and then Afghanistan plane crash, the legal argument that Blackwater put forward is quite an interesting one. "We can't be sued." What they said is, "We should enjoy the same immunity from civilian litigation that's enjoyed by the U.S. military." At the same time, their lobbyists and spokespeople are waxing poetic in the media about how it would be inappropriate to apply the uniform code of military justice, the court marshal system, to Blackwater because we're civilians. So, when it's convenient, we're part of the U.S. total force, part of the war machine, and should be treated like the military. And when it's convenient, oh, we can't be subjected to military law. Because we're actually civilians.

BILL MOYERS: But to whom are they accountable? Who can hold them to judge them?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, no one apparently has held them to any kind of accountability thus far. Not a single one of them has ever been charged with any crimes whatsoever.

BILL MOYERS: Isn't there something in the contract?

JEREMY SCAHILL: In fact, when Erik Prince-- well, they talk about-- "Oh, there's contracts overseeing this way. And they go through our papers and we're audited." But on life or death issues, not a single thing has ever happened to a Blackwater contractor, except what Erik Prince said. They're given a choice, window seat or aisle seat. And that's, and they're fired. Look, one of the really disturbing stories that's come out of Iraq in the last year involving Blackwater was that last Christmas Eve inside of the heavily fortified green zone, a drunken, off-duty Blackwater contractor allegedly shot and killed a bodyguard for the Iraqi Vice President, Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

In the aftermath of that shooting, this individual was whisked out of Iraq, within 36 hours after that shooting. And then he actually returned back to the region working in Kuwait for another contractor with the Pentagon. The killing happened, December 24th 2006. February of 2007, this individual is back in the Middle East working for another U.S. military contractor and worked there until August. He hasn't been charged with any crime whatsoever. We understand now that the Justice Department is investigating it. The Iraqis clearly labeled it a murder. And it created a major rift between Baghdad and Washington. Imagine if an Iraqi bodyguard shot and killed a bodyguard for Dick Cheney and then the Iraqis just whisked him out of the United States. I mean, what would happen? What message does this send? What does it say that in four years of occupation, hundreds of thousands of contractors, not a single one of them has been prosecuted? Ether we have tens of thousands of-- mercenaries in Iraq who are actually Boy Scouts, or something is fundamentally rotten with that system.

BILL MOYERS: What about these suits that had been filed by some of the loved ones of the four contractors who were killed in Fallujah, before Fallujah? What about those lawsuits? Where are they going?

JEREMY SCAHILL: You know, when I read the 60 Minutes transcript and they mentioned the four men who the killed at Fallujah and then they said well-- Blackwater has a memorial for them on the compound, I was waiting for them to say, "And the four families of the men are suing Blackwater for wrongful death." I mean, thi-- this--

BILL MOYERS: That wasn't in the piece though, was it?

JEREMY SCAHILL: It was not in the piece.

BILL MOYERS: No. I mean, I saw that Lara Logan and Erik Prince were walking by that memorial-


BILL MOYERS: --in North Carolina I think on their home base. And nothing was said about the fact that this suit is happening.

JEREMY SCAHILL: And I, you know, I've gotten to know those four families very well-- over these years of working on this story. And they're interesting. They're military families. They consider themselves to be very patriotic. Some of them are pretty conservative Republicans. And these men were all-- veterans of the U.S. Military, Navy SEAL. Scott Helvenston was one of the youngest people ever to complete the Navy SEAL BUDs training program. He was one of the guys killed there. And, you know, what happened after that, these guys were killed on March 31st, 2004. The families of these men didn't presume any malice on the part of Blackwater. They thought that it was a patriotic American company and that their loved ones were continuing their military service, but doing it through the private sector in Iraq. And some of them disagreed with the war. Some of them supported it. So, when they were killed, they wanted answers as to what happened. And they began calling Blackwater. And they say that the vibe was creepy. That it seemed as though somebody was hiding something, that they weren't being straight with them. And they asked, some of the families asked to see a copy of Blackwater's incident report, the company's investigation of that incident. And Donna Zovko the mother of Jerry Zovko -- they're Croatian immigrants she sat down with Blackwater executives at their compound in North Carolina.

And when she asked to get that document and look at it, she claims that a Blackwater representative stood up at the table and told her it's a classified document and you'll have to sue us if you wanna see it. And so, Donna Zovko, whose son Jerry was killed in Fallujah, starts becoming close friends with Kathy Heluenston, whose son Scott was killed in Fallujah. And the two of them begin comparing notes. And there's scouring media reports. And then they start to look at the photos. And they realize they weren't really in armored vehicles there. They start to put together pieces. And what emerged was a lawsuit.

In January of 2005, the families of those four men-- Wesley Batalona, Michael Teague, Jerry Zovko, and Scott Helvenston, filed a groundbreaking wrongful death lawsuit against Blackwater, charging that the company had sent those men into what was arguably the most dangerous city in the world at the time in unarmored vehicles, short two men, without heavy weaponry and without the opportunity to do a 24-hour risk assessment, all of which they said were in the contract governing their mission that day. And so, Blackwater fought back ferociously. Fred Fielding was one of the original lawyers on the case, more rec--

BILL MOYERS: He had served Richard Nixon's White House. And he's now the counsel to President Bush, right?

JEREMY SCAHILL: That's correct. They've had many law firms. And they've-- they've tried to have the case thrown out. They've appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. And-- twice, the Supreme Court rejected Ken Starr's appeals. And the case is sort of caught up in a little bit of legal limbo right now. But it's being watched very closely by all of the other war companies. Because it's like the tobacco litigation of the '90s. If that one domino goes down, it starts off a chain reaction. And so, a lot of people are paying very close attention to this.

BILL MOYERS: Doesn't Erik Prince as a businessman have to worry about finding new markets? Because the State Department has said when his contract outside the green zone in Iraq expires next May, Blackwater's not likely to be a-- a contestant for a new contract. I mean, there seems to be a tacit understanding between Blackwater and the government that given the shootings in September and all the controversy that's been created, they'd just sort of quietly slip away.

JEREMY SCAHILL: You know what though? In the midst of all of this chaos and crisis and the sort of crisis of image for Blackwater, the company continues to win very lucrative government contracts. The business in Iraq, it can come and go for Blackwater.I don't even think it represents the most lucrative aspects of the company's business. It's just the highest profile. Blackwater also has an affiliate company that they started called Greystone which was registered offshore in Barbados. And that's sort of being portrayed as an actual sort of traditional mercenary outfit. And they're pushing their services to Fortune 500 companies. I mean, that's the target market of their intelligence division.

BILL MOYERS: Fortune 500 companies

JEREMY SCAHILL: Sure. Absolutely. I mean, you look at the guest list of the kickoff ceremony for Greystone, this affiliate of Blackwater that Erik Prince owned. And it's like all of these governments: Croatia, Uzbekistan. It's governments. It's International Monetary Fund. It's corporations. I mean, I think yes. The government business for Blackwater is tremendously important. They do an enormous volume of business in training, of law enforcement, of the military. And they certainly have been involved with training foreign forces as well. They've trained Jordanian attack helicopters. They've been deployed in Azerbaijan. But corporate to corporate, I think the business to business is gonna be a major part of Blackwater's future.

BILL MOYERS: You're a reporter, not a prophet. But what does this foreshadow for our world?

JEREMY SCAHILL: I think it's really scary. I mean, I think that the U.S. government right now is in the midst of its most radical privatization agenda. Seventy percent of the national intelligence budget is farmed out to the private sector. We have more contractors than soldiers occupying Iraq. I think that what this does is it takes-- it sanitizes it also for the American people. There's not a draft.

There's been, you know, almost 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq; we don't know how many private contractors. But that's a relatively small number compared to Vietnam, for instance, where we talked about 65,000 body bags coming home. And already, people are outraged at it. And I see this as a real subversion of democratic processes in this country and a subversion of sovereignty of nations around the world.

BILL MOYERS: But isn't it a way to keep protest at home against the war in Iraq and other wars from rising to the level of--

JEREMY SCAHILL: Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. I mean, it masks the human cost or the human toll of the war in terms of American lives. Because the contractor deaths are not counted in the official tolls nor are the injuries of them.

And it also masks the true extent of the occupation when over half of your occupation force comes from the private sector. Bush almost never talks about it. He doesn't have to own it in front of the American people. He's having enough trouble owning the 170,000 troops that are over there right now. And the story is starting to slip out. But you're absolutely right. It keeps the death toll down-- in terms of what's being reported. And it keeps protests down as well.

JEREMY SCAHILL: What I see in the bigger picture here is what the real revolution is in terms of U.S. politics is that they're taking billions of dollars in public money. And they're privatizing it.

You know, the Pentagon can't give campaign contributions. The State Department can't give campaign contributions. Blackwater's executives can give contributions. DynCore's, Ratheon, Northrop Grumman. And so what they're doing is, they're taking billions of dollars. And it's making its way back into the campaign coffers of the very politicians that make the meteoric ascent of these companies possible. I really view this through the lens of it tearing away at the fabric of American democracy as well.

BILL MOYERS: Jeremy Scahill, thank you very much for joining me and for writing BLACKWATER: THE RISE OF THE WORLD'S MOST POWERFUL MERCENARY ARMY.

JEREMY SCAHILL: My pleasure, Bill.

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