This is one show that you don't want to miss!
interviews Jeremy Scahill who reports on Blackwater in details no other media has matched.
He wrote the book on it.
is an independent investigative journalist who wrote this recent bestselling book: Blackwater: The Rise Of The World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
Jeremy Scahill is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute. He's reported from Iraq, the Balkans and Nigeria, among other places, he's a co-winner of the George Polk Award For Investigative Reporting.
Bill Moyers invites us to ask questions at the Companion Blog to his weekly "Bill Moyers Journal" broadcast.
Updated #1 to change the name
Updated #2 to change the name back
More below the fold
This weeks "Bill Moyers Journal" on Blackwater is yet another example of the excellent, high quality in depth investigative journalism we have come to expect from Bill Moyers, and rarely fine in traditional media.
Take some time to go to his blog and let him know how you feel about his efforts.
On March 31st, 2004 when four Blackwater operatives were ambushed and-- and killed in Fallujah, their bodies dragged through the streets, burned, strung up from a bridge.
BILL MOYERS:: I remember seeing those and they're horrifying. And the American public recoiled.
JEREMY SCAHILL:Right. And I mean, and initial reports on it were that civilian contractors had been killed. And the-- the image that was portrayed was that these were sort of like water specialists or engineers that were being dragged through the streets. And then, it emerged that in fact they were these mercenaries working for a-- a private company called Blackwater USA. And-- and we watched as the Bush administration then began to escalate the rhetoric. And it became clear that they were gonna lay siege to the city of Fallujah And what happened in the aftermath is well known. The-- the US military was ordered to destroy the city. Hundreds of Iraqi civilians were killed. A number of US troops. And I began from a very simple question. How on earth were the lives of four corporate personnel-- not US soldiers, not humanitarian workers. But how were the lives of these four corporate personnel worth the death of an entire Iraqi city? That siege had an incredibly devastating impact on events on the ground in Iraq. It gave rise to the Iraqi resistance. Fueled it. Attacks escalated against US forces. And it was-- it was really the moment that the war turned over the deaths of these four Blackwater guys.
I think we're in the midst of the most radical privatization agenda in our nation's history. We of course see it in schools. We see it in the health care system, in prisons. And now, we're seeing it full blown in the war machine. What I ultimately see as the real threat here is that the system of the very existence of the nation state I think is at stake here. Because you have companies now that have been funded with billions of dollars in public money using that money to then build up the infrastructure of private armies some of which could take out a small national military.
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."
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 Schmidt 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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here's your chance to ask the expert.
Submit your questions to Scahill by commenting below. We will post his responses to select questions early next week.