According to the New York Times, the United Arab Emirates has confirmed hiring a company headed by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater. The UAE secretly signed a $529 million contract with Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, or R2, to put together an 800-member battalion of mercenaries:
The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.
The U.A.E.’s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country’s biggest foe, the former employees said.1
On May 18th, Democracy Now! spoke to Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, about the new revelations.
In part 1, Amy Goodman asked Scahill to talk about the significance of Erik Prince’s move to the UAE:
“I mean, look, the fact is that one of the major sources of income, and one of the things that the UAE is becoming famous for, is being a playground for the war game globally. Companies that service the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have set up shop there, because of the tax situation, because of its proximity to these war zones. And so, you have massive, massive presence of the U.S. war industry in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. And so, for Erik Prince to set up shop there is no surprise. I mean, I know—when I went to Afghanistan late last year, when you’re in the airport in Dubai, it’s journalists, rich Emiratis, or it’s people in transit to Bangladesh or other countries, or it’s the war industry. You see the 18-inch biceps, the wraparound sunglasses. I mean, it really is sort of a gateway to war and a good place to position yourself if you want to make a killing.”
In part 2, Scahill questions the continued use of mercenaries under the Obama administration:
“[Despite] the fact that this Crown Prince can sit with President Obama one day and then be hatching mercenary plots with Erik Prince the next day, is a stunning commentary on how little things have changed from Bush to Obama on this issue of mercenaries.”
Scahill also says:
“I think it’s just a matter of time before we start to see an incursion of special operations contractors going into Libya, if they’re not there already.”
Amy Goodman then asks about the appointment of former attorney general, John Ashcroft, as “chief ethics officer”:
“But, I mean, putting John Ashcroft in charge of ethics at Blackwater is like asking the fox to take care of the baby chicks, you know, on a farm somewhere and hoping everything is going to be fine. I mean, he’s going to devour the very idea of ethics. If you look at his track record when he was attorney general, I mean, this is not an ethical man and not anyone that has any business overseeing the ethics of a notorious mercenary firm.”
Scahill believes that Prince sees himself as “a Christian crusader whose role in the world is wiping out Muslims and Islam in general”:
“We can look at documents submitted in federal court cases from Prince’s own former employees, who say that he is—he views himself as a Christian crusader whose role in the world is wiping out Muslims and Islam in general. They said that he set a tone at Blackwater that rewarded the taking of Muslim life, viewed the operations in Iraq as, quote, ‘payback for 9/11’, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11…”
“It’s very dangerous, Amy, when you have these kinds of forces in such volatile environments, with all of the uprisings happening. The last thing that region needs is a Christian crusader force [there will be no Muslims in the new militia] that appears to have the legitimacy or backing of the United States government, regardless of if it actually does. You know, it’s incendiary, and it’s just—it’s dousing an already burning fire with gasoline. And it’s very, very dangerous. The Obama administration, if they’re not supporting this, they need to do something about it. If they are, well, then that’s serious, and they need to answer questions about what on earth they’re doing continuing this business with Erik Prince’s Christian crusader force.”
For further background on Erik Prince and Blackwater, I also recommend this earlier Democracy Now! interview with Scahill, in which he explains how the “Rumsfeld Doctrine” (first outlined on September 10th 2001) really set the ball rolling for the privatisation of the US military: