Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater Founder Creating Private Army of 'Christian Crusaders' in the Persian Gulf
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AMY GOODMAN: The United Arab Emirates has confirmed hiring a company headed by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater. According to the New York Times, 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.
Documents show the force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from attacks, and put down internal revolts. The troops could be deployed if foreign guest workers stage revolts in labor camps, or if the UAE regime were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world. One contract document describes, quote, "crowd-control operations" where the crowd "is not armed with firearms but does pose a risk using improvised weapons (clubs and stones)."
The UAE is a close ally with the United States, and it appears the deal has received the Obama administration’s support. One U.S. official told the Times, quote, "The gulf countries, and the U.A.E. in particular, don’t have a lot of military experience. It would make sense if they looked outside their borders for help. They might want to show that they are not to be messed with."
News of the deal also comes just weeks after the UAE’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, visited President Barack Obama at the White House late last month. A White House statement said Obama and the Crown Prince would discuss, quote, "the strong ties between the United States and the U.A.E. and our common strategic interests in the region."
A number of U.S. citizens, including former Blackwater employees, have occupied senior positions in the operation. Legal experts have questioned whether those involved might be breaking federal laws prohibiting U.S. citizens from training foreign troops if they did not secure a license from the U.S. Department of State. The force is reportedly made up of Colombians, South Africans and other foreign troops. Prince reportedly has a strict rule against hiring any Muslims because he’s worried they could not be counted on to kill fellow Muslims.
Prince himself now lives in the United Arab Emirates after moving their last year under a cloud of legal controversy here in the United States. The UAE deal is the first to emerge publicly since Prince sold Blackwater and suggested he would leave the private military business behind.
For more, we’re joined by independent journalist, Democracy Now! correspondent, Nation writer, Jeremy Scahill, author of the award-winning bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Jeremy was the first journalist to report on Prince’s move to the United Arab Emirates, two months before it was publicly confirmed.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jeremy.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of this mercenary army that Prince is setting up for the UAE.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, when Erik Prince decided to move to the United Arab Emirates, he gave an interview to a former CIA employee in Vanity Fair in which he said that he was going to be leaving the soldier of fortune business and said he wanted to go and teach high school, and he said, you know, "I’ll teach history. Even Indiana Jones was a teacher." Well, it’s true that Indiana Jones was a teacher, but he also was an anti-mercenary. In fact, in a famous scene in the movie, Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark, his archnemesis, Belloq, who’s working for the Nazis, accuses Indiana Jones of giving a bad name to mercenaries. So, Erik Prince, rather than pursuing that path, has actually pursued the path of the mercenary.