Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army

Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army

by Jeremy Scahill

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The groundbreaking bestselling expose of the shadowy mercenary army that perpetrated horrific war crimes in America's name.

On September 16, 2007, machine gun fire erupted in Baghdad's Nisour Square, leaving seventeen Iraqi civilians dead, among them women and children. The shooting spree, labeled "Baghdad's Bloody Sunday," was neither the work of Iraqi insurgents nor U.S. soldiers. The shooters were private forces, subcontractors working for the secretive mercenary company, Blackwater Worldwide, led by Erik Prince

Award-winning journalist Jeremy Scahill takes us from the bloodied streets of Iraq to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans to the chambers of power in Washington, to reveal the frightening new face of the U.S. military machine, and what happens when you outsource war.

"A crackling expose" — New York Times Book Review

"[Scahill] is a one-man truth squad" — Bill Moyers

"[An] utterly gripping and explosive story" — Naomi Klein, The Guardian

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781568583945
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Publication date: 05/26/2008
Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 182,595
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.60(d)
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Jeremy Scahill is one of the three founding editors of The Intercept. He is an investigative reporter, war correspondent, and author of the international bestselling books Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield and Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army and coauthor of The Assassination Complex. Scahill has served as the national security correspondent for The Nation and Democracy Now! and was twice awarded the prestigious George Polk Award. Scahill is a producer and writer of the award-winning film Dirty Wars, which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2007 Jeremy Scahill
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-56025-979-4

Chapter One


THE STATELY mansion at 1057 South Shore Drive in Holland, Michigan, is about as far from Fallujah as one could imagine. The home where young Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater USA, grew up sits along the sleepy banks of Lake Macatawa, an inlet of Lake Michigan in the American Midwest. Trees shimmer along the edges of the driveway on a summer day; the sun glints peacefully off the lake. Occasionally, a car clips by or a boat motor starts, but otherwise the neighborhood is calm and quiet, the embodiment of affluent, postcard American society. Two middle-aged women power-walk past a man lazily riding his lawnmower. Other than that, the street is deserted. As they trot by, one of the women glances over to her companion, their sun visors almost colliding, and asks whether the Prince family still owns the mansion. The estate is well-known, the family more so. In Holland, Michigan, the Princes were indeed royalty, and Erik's father, Edgar Prince, was the king.

Much like Blackwater's compound in Moyock, North Carolina-a seven-thousand-acre peat bog with a constant rattle of machine-gun fire-is Erik Prince's personal fiefdom, the idyllic Dutch hamlet of Holland was his father's. Aself-made industrialist, Edgar Prince employed nearly a quarter of the city. He shaped its institutions, planned and funded its downtown, and was among the biggest benefactors to its two colleges. A decade after Edgar's sudden death in 1995, his presence and legacy still permeate the town. On the corner of two of the busiest streets in Holland's soccer-mom-chic downtown, there is a monument to Ed Prince: seven bronze footsteps embedded in the ground lead to a raised platform upon which stand life-sized bronze statues of a trio of musicians-a tuxedoed cello player, a mustached violinist, and a young woman wearing a skirt who is blowing into her flute. Another statue depicts a little girl standing with her arms wrapped around a small boy, holding a book of music notes, their mouths frozen in song. On the pedestal below the group is a small plaque memorializing Edgar D. Prince: "We will always hear your footsteps," it reads. "The People of Downtown Holland honor your extraordinary vision and generosity."

If there was one lesson Edgar Prince was poised to impart to his children, it was how to build and maintain an empire based on strict Christian values, right-wing politics, and free-market economics. But while the landscape of Holland today is dotted with memorials to the Prince family legacy, Edgar was not the town's original emperor. Dating back to the community's founding, Holland had long been run by Christian patriarchs. In 1846, with a sea-weary clan of fifty-seven fellow Dutch refugees, Albertus Van Raalte came ashore in western Michigan. Prince's predecessor had fled his home country because he had "undergone all manner of humiliation and persecution through his defiance of the religious restrictions imposed by the State church," according to the city.

Van Raalte was a member of a sect of the Dutch Reform Church opposed by the Dutch monarchy at the time. After arriving in the United States aboard his vessel, the Southerner, Van Raalte led the clan to the shores of Lake Michigan, where he envisioned a community free to live and worship within the tenets of his brand of Dutch Reform, and without any outside influence. After some scouting he came upon a perfect spot, next to a lake that ran into Lake Michigan. On February 9, 1847, Van Raalte's community was founded, on the site where Erik Prince would later spend his youth, perhaps some of it on the creaking dock that sneaks out into the Lake Michigan inlet. But Van Raalte's perfect vision would not be realized quite as he expected, according to a biography produced by Hope College, which he founded and which has seen millions of dollars in donations from the Prince family: "[Van Raalte's] goal of developing a Christian community governed by Christian principles was visionary but was shattered in 1850. Holland Township became the basic unit of government. Van Raalte's ideal of Christian control was lost." But Van Raalte sought alternative means of establishing his Shangri-La in Holland. "His influence was felt because he became active in politics and he continued to own large tracts of land," according to the biography. "Although many of the means to achieve a Christian community broke down, Van Raalte was still the pastor of the only church, member of the district school board, guiding light of the Academy, principal landowner, and a businessman with major property holdings." Virtually the same description could be applied to Edgar Prince and, eventually, to Erik, born nearly a century after Van Raalte's death.

The conservative Dutch Reform Church that provided the religious guidance for Van Raalte, and eventually the Prince family, based its beliefs on the teachings of a seventeenth-century minister, John Calvin. One of the main tenets of Calvinism is that of predestination-the belief that God has predestined some people for salvation and others for damnation. Calvinists believe that people have no business meddling or vainly trying to divine God's decisions. The religion also teaches strict obedience and hard work, acting on the belief that God will steer followers but that they are responsible for the work. Calvinists have long taken pride in their work ethic. The town of Holland boasts that its villagers dug the canal to Lake Michigan-that would prove valuable for trade-with their own hands, and then set down their shovels and immediately constructed the bridge over their new channel.

It was this famed work ethic that found Erik Prince's grandfather Peter Prince, owner of the Tulip City Produce Company, on a truck heading to Grand Rapids, thirty miles away, for a business meeting in the early morning hours of May 21, 1943. Shortly into the trip, Prince complained of heartburn to his fellow wholesale produce dealer, and they pulled over for a few minutes. Soon, they continued on, and near Hudsonville, halfway through the trip, Prince slumped over against his colleague, who was driving. A doctor in the town pronounced him dead on arrival at the age of thirty-six. Peter's son, Edgar, was eleven years old.

A decade later, Edgar Prince graduated from the University of Michigan with an engineering degree and met Elsa Zwiep, whose parents owned Zwiep's Seed Store in Holland and who had just completed her studies in education and sociology at nearby Calvin College. The two married, and Edgar followed family tradition and joined the military, serving in the U.S. Air Force. The couple moved east and then west as Edgar was stationed at bases in South Carolina and Colorado. Though it's unclear whether Peter Prince was a veteran-he came of age for the draft during the window between World War I and World War II-four of Peter's five brothers were in the Army at the time of his death. Though Edgar Prince had traveled far and wide during college and the Air Force, his hometown of Holland beckoned him and Elsa back to Lake Michigan and to the strict religious and cultural traditions embraced by the Prince family. "We find Holland a very comfortable place to live," Edgar Prince said in a book written about Holland's downtown, which included three chapters on the family. "We have family here. We enjoy the recreational opportunities. We like the community's heritage, which is based on the Dutch reputation for being neat, clean, orderly, and hard working. Their standard has always been excellence."

Upon returning to the town, Edgar rolled up his sleeves and started working in die-casting, rising to the position of chief engineer at Holland's Buss Machine Works. But Edgar had much bigger ambitions and soon quit. In 1965, Prince and two fellow employees founded their own company that made die-cast machines for the auto industry. In 1969, he shipped a sixteen-hundred-ton machine capable of creating aluminum transmission cases every two minutes. By 1973, Prince Corporation was a great success, with hundreds of people working for the company's various Holland divisions. That year, the company began production of what would become its signature product, an invention that would end up in virtually every car in the world and put Edgar Prince on his way to becoming a billionaire: the ubiquitous lighted sun visor.

But while wealth and success were in abundance in the Prince family, the sixteen-to-eighteen-hour days had been taking their toll on Edgar, and in the early 1970s, he nearly fell to the same fate as his father when he suffered a serious heart attack. "It was then, while he lay in a hospital bed reflecting on what all his labor had won for him, that he committed himself anew to his faith in Jesus Christ," recalled Prince's friend Gary Bauer, one of the early leaders of the religious right and founder of the conservative Christian lobby group the Family Research Council. "Ed turned his future and the future of his business over to God. From that point forward, the Prince Corporation was blessed with unprecedented growth and financial success." Edgar Prince recovered from the heart attack and steered his company toward amazing prosperity. Prince Corporation soon expanded into map lamps, visors that could open garage doors, consoles with ashtrays, and cup and change holders, among many other products. By 1980, the Prince empire boasted numerous plants and more than 550 employees. As Erik Prince later recalled, "My dad was a very successful entrepreneur. From scratch he started a company that first produced high-pressure die-cast machines and grew into a world-class automotive parts supplier in west Michigan. They developed and patented the first lighted car sun visor, developed the car digital compass/thermometer and the programmable garage door opener." But, Prince said, "Not all their ideas were winners. Things like a sock-drawer light, an automated ham de-boning machine and a propeller-driven snowmobile didn't work out so well for the company. My dad used them as examples of the need for perseverance and determination."

In that respect, it wasn't the only way in which the product itself seemed of secondary importance to Prince. "People make the difference," read the copy from an old Prince Corporation brochure. "It isn't magic that brings excellence to a company; excellence is the result of commitment and hard work by dedicated people. Whether we're talking about products or processes, no wizardry or easy formulas will solve the challenges of tomorrow. People will." Edgar Prince was fond of initiatives like one where executives stuck to a strict exercise regimen. Three days a week from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. the executives met at the Holland Tennis Club, which Prince also owned. In 1987, Prince opened a sprawling 550,000-square-foot facility spread over thirty-five acres, its fourth manufacturing center and home to many of its now fifteen hundred employees. The Prince "campus" centerpiece featured nearly five thousand feet of skylights and amenities like a basketball and volleyball court. He never made employees work on Sundays and flew executives home from business trips promptly so they could be with their families on the Lord's Day.

Detroit's auto industry may have been suffering in the 1980s, "but you'd never know it from the Prince Corporation," read the lead of a story in the Holland Sentinel. "My family's business was automotive supply-the most viciously competitive business in the world," Erik Prince told author Robert Young Pelton. "My father was focused on quality, volume, and customer satisfaction. That's what we talked around the dinner table." But Edgar Prince had more than the success of his business and his employees on his mind, and with the money flowing into Prince Corporation, he finally had the means to achieve the higher goals to which he aspired. That meant pouring serious money into conservative Christian causes. "Ed Prince was not an empire builder. He was a Kingdom builder," recalled Gary Bauer. "For him, personal success took a back seat to spreading the Gospel and fighting for the moral restoration of our society."

In the 1980s, the Prince family merged with one of the most venerable conservative families in the United States when Erik Prince's sister Betsy married Dick DeVos, whose father, Richard, founded the multilevel marketing firm Amway and went on to own the Orlando Magic basketball team. Amway was a powerhouse distributor of home products and was regularly plagued by accusations that it was run like a cult and was nothing more than a sophisticated pyramid scheme. The company would rise to become one of the greatest corporate contributors in the U.S. electoral process in the 1990s, mostly to Republican candidates and causes, and used its business infrastructure as a massive political organizing network. "Amway relies heavily on the nearly fanatical-some say cultlike-devotion of its more than 500,000 U.S. 'independent distributors; As they sell the company's soaps, vitamins, detergents, and other household products, the distributors push the Amway philosophy," reported Mother Jones magazine in a 1996 exposé on the company. "They tell you to always vote conservative no matter what. They say liberals support the homosexuals and let women get out of their place," Karen ]ones, a former Amway distributor, told the magazine. "They say we need to get things back to the way it's supposed to be." Amway leaders also reportedly used "voice-mail messages, along with company rallies and motivational tapes, to mobilize distributors into a potent domestic political force."

Betsy and Dick's union was the kind of alliance common among the families of monarchs in Europe. The DeVos family was one of the few in Michigan whose power and influence exceeded that of the Princes. They were one of the greatest bankrollers of far-right causes in U.S. history, and with their money they propelled extremist Christian politicians and activists to positions of prominence. For a time, Betsy and Dick lived down the street from the Prince family, including Erik, who is nine years younger than his sister.

In 1988, Gary Bauer and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson began building what would become the Family Research Council (FRC), the crusading, influential, and staunchly conservative evangelical organization that has since taken the lead on issues ranging from banning gay marriage to promoting school vouchers for Christian schools to outlawing abortion and stem-cell research. To get it off the ground, though, they needed funding, and they turned to Edgar Prince. "[W]hen Jim Dobson and I decided that the financial resources weren't available to launch FRC, Ed and his family stepped into the breach," wrote Bauer. "I can say without hesitation that without Ed and Elsa and their wonderful children, there simply would not be a Family Research Council." Young Erik would go on to become one of Bauer's earliest interns at the FRC. It was one of many right-wing causes that the Princes would join the DeVoses in bankrolling, leading to what would be known as the Republican Revolution in 1994, which brought Newt Gingrich and a radical right-wing agenda known as the Contract with America to power in Congress, wrestling control from the Democrats for the first time in forty years. To support the "revolution," DeVos's Amway gave some $2.5 million to the Republican Party in what was the single largest soft-money donation on record to any political party in history. In 1996, Amway also donated $1.3 million to the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau to pay for Republican "infomercials" broadcast on Pat Robertson's Family Channel during the RNC convention.


Excerpted from BLACKWATER by JEREMY SCAHILL Copyright © 2007 by Jeremy Scahill. Excerpted by permission.
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