Democracy Devolved: Shrinking the Public Sphere: (The Back Story of Blackwater)

Article excerpt

A secret government program assigned to a privately run company to assassinate people around the world sounds like science fiction. It might even be funny if it weren't so tragically real. As reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post in late August, the role of Blackwater Inc. has been expanding amidst ongoing scandals concerning its lawless activities. The latest revelations involve this private mercenary army spearheading a secret CIA assassination program, partaking in frequent CIA bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and being privy to information deemed too sensitive for Congress.

In reality, the US government has become so hollow that it contracts out its basic competences to mayhem-making mercenaries and corporate crusaders; and, even when those crusaders engage in a pattern of criminal activity, the government expands their role. The ability of contractors like Blackwater to evade accountability for atrocities and to prosper in murky and wasteful ways is the front story (see Government Inc., Winter 2008 TNP). The back story is the breakdown of the social contract at the heart of constitutional democracy, as demonstrated by the growth of a government within the government--one shrouded in secrecy. Is growing corporate influence on politics unique to America? Can it be reversed?

THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS

Following the 9/11 attacks, Dick Cheney, who has been called Darth Vader by editorial writers, said of the US, "We need to work the dark side, if you will. Spend time in the shadows of the intelligence world." Cheney found an eager ally in Blackwater founder Erik Prince. Prince, like Cheney, has an extremist view of the world and believes to a moral certainty in pursuing his objectives by any means.

Erik Prince is a multimillionaire fundamentalist Christian from a powerful Republican family who inherited his wealth from his father. A major Republican campaign contributor, he served as a Navy SEAL from 1992-1995 and as an intern for George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s. On his experience in the White House, Prince told the Grand Rapids Press, "I saw a lot of things I didn't agree with--homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act, those kinds of bills." He founded Blackwater Worldwide in 1997 with personal funds.

According to statements made under oath by former Blackwater employees, Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe." Prince is said to believe in "Christian supremacy" and to have "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." Prince's public comments about homosexuals suggest that he has the same attitude towards gays as Muslims. The sworn statements also allege that Prince used his private planes to smuggle weapons into Iraq and "generated substantial revenues from participating in the illegal arms trade."

On 3 August 2009, two former Blackwater employees submitted affidavits in US federal court, which claimed that Erik Prince arranged the murder of individuals cooperating in a federal investigation of the company, as well as his employees who were preparing to blow the whistle on his alleged criminal activities. The sworn statements also say that Prince and Blackwater executives had destroyed incriminating evidence, permitted the ongoing use of child prostitutes at Blackwater camps, and engaged in illegal arms dealing, money laundering and tax evasion, creating "a web of companies in order to obscure wrongdoing, fraud, and other crimes."

To date, two Blackwater employees have pled guilty to weapons smuggling charges and one to manslaughter; five have been indicted for manslaughter. A lawsuit filed against Prince and his companies by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of Iraqi victims of the 16 September 2007 massacre at Nisour Square alleges that Prince is "equivalent to a top mafia boss who is responsible for all the day-to-day crimes committed at his direction and behest. …