Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater Founder Creating Private Army of 'Christian Crusaders' in the Persian Gulf
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AMY GOODMAN: And what about other U.S. Americans going over there?
JEREMY SCAHILL: 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.
AMY GOODMAN: And the other Americans working with Prince in UAE?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. Well, there’s a former FBI agent who actually—CT Chambers, who actually ran Blackwater’s, quote-unquote, "training operation" in Afghanistan for a shell company that Blackwater set up called Paravant. And it seems as though this company was set up explicitly to keep the name Blackwater out of the contract bidding process. It won that contract, and Blackwater still has these contracts to train Afghan national police and military forces. That company came under an intense investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee led by Senator Carl Levin, exploring whether or not Blackwater and the massive war company Raytheon effectively conspired to win contracts for Blackwater while explicitly shielding or shrouding Blackwater’s involvement in secrecy. Two members of that Blackwater force in Afghanistan were recently convicted of manslaughter stemming from the shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians. So the man who ran that program that’s under intense congressional scrutiny right now, and Senator Levin has asked the Justice Department to investigate, is another key player in this Prince operation. He’s supposedly making upwards of $300,000. But the contract is worth $100 million a year, and it started in June, and it’s supposed to go through May of 2015.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to journalist Jeremy Scahill, who wrote the book Blackwater. We’re also joined via Democracy Now! video stream by Samer Muscati. He is the Iraq and UAE researcher for Human Rights Watch, joining us from Toronto. Talk about the human rights situation in UAE, Samer.
SAMER MUSCATI: The human rights situation has gotten worse over the past few weeks. Since April 8, UAE authorities have detained five peaceful activists, including Ahmad Mansour, a prominent rights figure in the UAE and a member of our advisory committee board. And also, they have dissolved the elected boards of two of the country’s longstanding civil society organizations: the Jurists Association and the Teachers’ Association. All this follows calls by citizens for greater electoral rights and greater freedoms. They signed a petition in March, and the associations made a public action in April asking for greater political reforms. And this has been the response of the government. So, unfortunately, the situation has deteriorated further over the past few weeks.
And the UAE also has a long tradition of abusing workers, including the ones that unfortunately this mercenary force appears to be set up to deal with. There’s about 750,000 construction workers and a similar number of domestic workers in the UAE, and they have quite serious complaints, including the fact that they have to pay recruitment fees, which are illegal under UAE law, but they spend thousands of dollars to come to the UAE, and they’re in debt. They work for jobs that pay them very little and in horrible conditions. Even this week, we see temperatures have risen to about 130 degrees Fahrenheit across the UAE, and construction workers are out in the sun, for pennies, basically, slaving away.