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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Book reveals role of privatized military

Journalist to speak about emergence of Blackwater

What your middle-school English teacher told you is true: Language is important.

Think of the word “contractor,” for example. It likely brings images of baseball-capped guys who build houses or direct the crews that renovate kitchens, bathrooms, etc.

Use the term “mercenary,” though, and the image switches to grim-faced guys dressed in camo gear, carrying automatic weapons, running though jungles or guarding VIPs.

Language is Jeremy Scahill’s specialty. As a freelance journalist, he contributes frequently to The Nation magazine, is a correspondent for the television show “Democracy Now!” and appears frequently on most of the major network and cable-TV news shows.

He’s best known, though, as the author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” (Nation Books, 480 pages, $26.95). And it is as the author of that book that Scahill will appear Tuesday in Spokane at the Bing Crosby Theater.

In Scahill’s book, the guys who work for Blackwater are just what the title states: mercenaries. Moreover, he wrote, they are “a small army of mercenaries” whose “work for the U.S. government … consisted, in part, of keeping alive the most hated officials in Iraq.”

At the head of this army is Erik Prince, the former Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater in late 1996. Born into a wealthy Michigan family, Prince became a millionaire when, following his father’s death in 1995, the family business was sold for a reported $1.3 billion.

By 1997, Prince had purchased 6,000 acres in a North Carolina swamp to use as a training center for personnel involved in what’s called special operations.

As Scahill said in an interview on “Democracy Now!,” “Blackwater was founded on the principle of anticipating accelerated government outsourcing of training, and firearms-related training. … It was supposed to be like a sportsman’s paradise-slash-training center in the wilderness of North Carolina.”

What it has become, though, in Scahill’s words, is “a force at the vanguard of the Bush administration’s offensive war in Iraq.” The company received a $27 million contract in 2003 to guard then-U.S. Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer and, Scahill wrote in the Los Angeles Times, has since “metastasized into a central component of the U.S. presence in Iraq and is spreading fast into the most sensitive area of the national security apparatus.”

And Scahill sees this as a problem. For one thing, Blackwater employees are alleged to have shot 17 Iraqi civilians a year ago in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

“A U.S. military investigation labeled the shootings a ‘criminal event,’ ” Scahill wrote in the Times, “and a federal grand jury in Washington is hearing evidence in the case.”

For another, Blackwater has been attempting to create training centers outside its North Carolina home. The company is engaged in lawsuits regarding a planned site in San Diego.

Scahill, though, believes the problems concerning Blackwater go beyond the Bush administration. Which returns us to the question of language: When it comes to Blackwater, is there a difference between Republican and Democrat?

Given how important the company has become to the government – Scahill claims that Blackwater has “about two-thirds as many operatives in Baghdad as the U.S. State Department has diplomatic security agents in the entire world” – its influence is likely to affect anyone elected as U.S. president.

“There is no question that a McCain White House would be preferred by Blackwater and its allies,” Scahill wrote. “The question is: Would a Democratic victory really be bad for business?”

Dan Webster can be reached at danw@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5483.
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