Making a Killing: A Blackwater Timeline

An investigation ordered by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki into Blackwater's September 16 shooting in Baghdad, in which 17 civilians were killed and another 24 were wounded, has determined that the company's operators opened fired indiscriminately and without provocation. The official Iraqi report on the incident demands that the U.S. government pay $8 million in compensation to each of the victims' families and sever all Iraq-based contracts with Blackwater within the next 6 months. It also demands that the Blackwater operators involved in the shootings be handed over to Iraqi authorities for possible prosecution in Iraqi courts.

It's unclear if the U.S. government will comply and perhaps even more unclear if it could meet the Iraqi government's demands even if it wanted to. Civilian employees of the State Department rely on Blackwater for protection. If the company were banished from Iraq, U.S. diplomatic operations would be paralyzed, at least until another private contractor could be hired for the job. Even if this were to happen, it's doubtful that booting Blackwater would make much difference. More than likely, its operators would quickly find work with competitors like Triple Canopy and DynCorp, who would have to fill the Baghdad security void in Blackwater's absence. The private security sector is a small one after all. Even Andrew Moonen, the Blackwater operator who got drunk in the Green Zone last Christmas Eve and murdered one of the Iraqi vice president's security guards, found a new job with Combat Support Services Associates, which put him back to work in Kuwait just two months after the shooting.

So, will Blackwater survive this latest scandal? It's impossible to know for sure, but there's little reason to believe otherwise. The company, which started as a small-scale provider of firearms training in 1998, has grown into a billion-dollar Goliath, complete with an army of lobbyists and sympathetic politicians to press its agenda on Capitol Hill. Guided by its reclusive founder, Erik Prince, the company, over its short history, has deflected controversy with ease, all the while simultaneously expanding its reach into new markets and generating ever more profitable government contracts. What follows is a timeline that documents Blackwater's rise and its history of misconduct in Iraq and Afghanistan.

1965
Prince Corporation is founded in Holland, Michigan, by Edgar Prince, father of future Blackwater founder Erik Prince. The company specializes in auto parts.

June 6, 1969
Erik Prince is born.

1973
Prince Corporation begins marketing the "lighted sun visor" to car companies, a wildly successful innovation that nets the company billions of dollars.

February 1979
Erik Prince's older sister Betsy marries Dick Devos, CEO of Amway and a billionaire contributor to the GOP and right-wing political causes. Devos was the Republican candidate for governor in Michigan in 2006.

1988
Gary Bauer and James Dobson found the socially conservative Family Research Council, funded primarily by the Prince family. Erik Prince interns there, before moving on to an internship in President George H.W. Bush's White House.

1992
Erik Prince earns a commission in the U.S. Navy. He goes on to become a Navy SEAL and serves in Haiti, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

March 2, 1995
Edgar Prince dies of a heart attack.

July 22, 1996

Prince Corporation is sold for $1.35 billion. Erik Prince retires early from the U.S. military.

December 26, 1996
Erik Prince's Blackwater Lodge and Training Center Inc. is incorporated in Delaware.

No Wontons for Fred Fielding This Week

Every month, the right-wing legal group, the Federalist Society, meets at a D.C. Chinese restaurant, where they hear from an impressive array of conservative luminaries, including the occasional Bush administration official who comes to brief the faithful on various legal developments. This Friday's scheduled guest was Fred Fielding, who we now know is not Deep Throat (as had long been suspected) but who is currently the White House counsel.

This morning at 10:02 a.m., the Federalists sent out word that Fielding would be a no-show. One hour, 52 minutes later, the Washington Post uploaded a story blaming the Bush administration for blowing the cover off a private intelligence company's Al-Qaeda spy operation. The company had given the administration an advance copy of the latest bin Laden video, with warnings to keep it under wraps. Naturally, the administration leaked it to cable news outlets, allegedly destroying years of undercover work by the company. The first White House official to get the video? Yes, that would be Fred Fielding, who probably didn't need a fortune cookie to see his future this week.

Favorite story of the week:

After a humiliating defeat in Mexico's presidential election last year, Roberto Madrazo appeared to be back on top: He'd won the men's age-55 category in the Sept. 30 Berlin marathon with a surprising time of 2:41:12.
But Madrazo couldn't leave his reputation for shady dealings in the dust. Race officials said Monday they disqualified him for apparently taking a short cut -- an electronic tracking chip indicates he skipped two checkpoints in the race and would have needed superhuman speed to achieve his win.
According to the chip, Madrazo took only 21 minutes to cover nine miles -- faster than any human can run. "Not even the world record holder can go that fast," race director Mark Milde said.
In a photograph taken as he crossed the finish line, Madrazo wears an ear-to-ear grin and pumps his arms in the air. But he also wore a wind breaker, hat and long, skintight running pants -- too much clothing, some said, for a person who had just run 26.2 miles in 60-degree weather.
Madrazo's outfit caught the attention of the New York-based marathon photographer Victor Sailer, who alerted race organizers that they might have a cheater on their hands.
"It was so obvious to me, if you look at everyone else that's in the picture, everyone's wearing T-shirts and shorts, and the guy's got a jacket on and a hat or whatever," Sailer said. "I looked at it and was like, wait a second."

Thank heavens for vigilant cameramen.

Madrazo's history of corruption and lies while in Mexico meant everyday citizens were unsurprised by the news of his marathon shenanigans. It's all in the AP article.

Another Nail in the Coffin for the Gitmo Tribunals

More evidence has emerged that the military tribunals set up by the Pentagon to review the legal status of Guantanamo detainees are nothing more than kangaroo courts. Last week, federal public defenders in Oregon filed an affidavit describing an interview with an army reserve officer who has sat on 49 Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT). The officer, a prosecutor in his civilian life, is the second to speak out publicly against the tribunals.

According to the affidavit, in at least six cases where the CSRT unanimously found the detainee did not qualify as an enemy combatant, the military ordered a new CSRT or forced the first one to re-open the case. The findings were then reversed with no new evidence, according to the officer, whose name was withheld. Tribunal members were poorly trained, pressured by higher-ups to rule against the detainnes, and despite congressional rules requiring the military to allow detainees to present evidence in their favor, the only witnesses allowed to testify on their behalf were other Gitmo prisoners. (Surely those Uighurs were a big help!)

The lawyers filed the affidavit in the case of Adel Hassan Hamad, a Sudanese father of four who worked at a charity hospital in Pakistan, where he was captured and sent to Cuba in 2002. The military actually ruled that he could be released a few years ago, but he is still languishing in captivity. It's this kind of stuff that makes it hard to imagine that the Supreme Court, conservative as it is, will rule that the tribunals are a perfect substitute for real constitutional rights.

Bad Moon Rising

Along with the esteem and credibility this administration has cost us in the world, will it also end African Americans' storied role in the armed forces? Blacks are fleeing in droves from the recruiters' offices they once thronged. According to the Boston Globe:

Defense Department statistics show the number of young black enlistees has fallen by more than 58 percent since fiscal year 2000. The Army in particular has been hit hard: In fiscal year 2000, according to the Pentagon statistics, more than 42,000 black men and women applied to enlist; in fiscal year 2005, the most recent for which a racial breakdown is available, just over 17,000 signed up.

No other groups' enlistment figures have dropped more. No wonder, with 83% of the black community opposing the war and this administration. One has to wonder about the long term implications most, though. The military, for all its racial problematics (which the article thoroughly lays out) has long been the black and working class safety valve; if you couldn't go to college, you could serve your country, be respected, and make a good living. You could help out the folks back home and make yourself much more employable after either a hitch or a career. One can only wonder how this turn of events will affect already bad black socio-economics and even crime rates because it's doubtful that the majority of those blacks who pass on the uniform will either head off for college or a high paying job. We'll all be dealing with the ripple effects of the Bush years for a long, long time.

The United States' war on Latin American populism has been around for decades, but this time it is being played out in the last place that the U.S. could have predicted: Costa Rica. This peaceful (they don't have an army) and U.S.-friendly country voted Sunday on whether or not to ratify the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Costa Rica is the only country in the region that has not done so.

The country is divided. President Oscar Arias won the general election last February based on a platform supporting the referendum, although he doesn't have much of a mandate; Arias beat his opposition by only 2 percent. Costa Ricans are split almost evenly between those who wish to ratify this neo-liberal agreement and those who side with the rising tide of leftist politics in Latin America. Last weekend, 100,000 Costa Ricans opposed to the agreement marched in the capital of San Jose.

The arguments for each side mirror the ideological arguments surrounding the issue in both North and South America. Supporters, including the president, say that the pact is necessary in order to create jobs and expand its fledgling technology sector. Opponents fear that it will make the rich richer, the poor poorer, and saturate the market with cheap imports from multinationals, hurting local business.

This is an ideological battle on the most general grounds as well, between privatization and nationalization. As part of the Act, the United States is demanding that Costa Rica privatize its nationalized telecommunications and insurance sectors. This might seem like a somewhat innocuous political battle in a tiny country that has little to no influence on the global economy, but symbolically this is an incredibly important decision. Costa Rica is now centrally positioned not only geographically but as a battlefield in the opposing ideologies of North and South America.

—Andre Sternberg

Marijuana Laws Cost Taxpayers Billions

A new study finds the marijuana prohibition costs taxpayers $41.8 billion a year in law enforcement, diverts $113 billion from the legal economy, and loses a whopping $31.1 billion in revenue annually. The Marijuana Policy Project reports the sad numbers. I mean, think how many wars we could fund with that kind of money. Not to mention the cost of all the enviro-damage from growing in national parks and supposedly pristine wilderness areas. Not to mention the good medicine never taken.

And—shhh—don't tell the boozers, but Lawrence Welk—or Myron Floren—was on the toke many, many moons ago. Clearly the weed's been mainstream forever. Check out the video, sans bubbles:

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

It's a Curse but is it Really That Bad?

I'm not sure my eyes are working properly. Can it really be that a British mom wants to give her severely disabled 15 year old daughter a hysterectomy to "save her the pain and discomfort of menstruation"? One can only imagine how difficult caring for such a disabled child must be but major surgery to avoid four or five days each month?

The mom defends her decision (which is far from settled) saying,

"Katie wouldn't understand menstruation at all. She has no comprehension about what will be happening to her body. All she would feel is the discomfort, the stomach cramps and the headaches, the mood swings, the tears, and wonder what is going on."

If Katie doesn't understand menstruation, I doubt she understands defecation, the flu she's probably gotten lots of in sunny old England or the conversations going on around her either. I know this sounds cruel and cavalier but there seems a big difference between this case and the "pillow angel" case from earlier this year. In that case, the brain damaged child was immobile; having her reach full growth would certainly have made it much harder for her parents to include her in activities, especially outside the home. I don't know what the right answer was, but choosing to stunt her growth can certainly be seen as the best of only bad options. That one didn't seem nearly as disturbing as this one where they have the option of just dealing with her periods along with the myriad other issues already burdening them.

Given the mother's word choice, Katie hasn't begun to menstruate yet; why not at least wait to see if she has easy periods or the kind that send women round the bend?

Amidst all the outrage expressed after last Thursday's new torture revelations (for those who missed it, the New York Times reported more ex post facto legalization of abhorrent practices and the continued operation of secret overseas prisons), Glenn Greenwald's excellent essay on Salon was one of the only media responses to point out that "outrage" is hardly an acceptable emotional response to something you've known about for years. "None of this is new," he writes. "And we have decided, collectively as a country, to do nothing about that." Our indignance at the front-page announcement of each new atrocity seems based less on our objection to the policies themselves than on our annoyance at being left in the dark.

If anything, our representatives have eagerly sought to legalize broad swaths of moral gray area, offering not only future endorsement but retroactive immunity to the perpetrators of crimes for which other countries enact Truth Commissions. Eager to demonstrate patriotism during wartime, we fail to notice how the doubt sown by secrecy gradually shifts our assumptions away from rational discourse. This cycle represents the Administration's greatest psychological triumph. Each new layer of secrecy imposed on the "War on Terror" has made it easier to believe that we, the people, don't understand what's at stake, don't realize how dangerous the situation is, and therefore, don't have the expertise to devise a democratic way to deal with it. Demanding answers doesn't just show respect for American values; it proves we respect ourselves as skeptics and patriots alike.

—Casey Miner

Swiss Elections Unmask Bigotry

For most of us, Switzerland evokes images of green hillsides, rotund dairy cows, and Julie Andrews, not rock-throwing protesters and tear gas. But that was the scene in Bern this weekend when demonstrators from the country's ultra-right wing party clashed with counter-protesters and riot police.

Tensions in Switzerland have been escalating in the run-up to the October 21 general elections. At the center of the debate are the country's immigration policies. A campaign poster for the powerful right-wing Swiss People's Party shows three white sheep kicking away a single black sheep, with the caption, "To Create Security." Twenty percent of Switzerland's population is foreign born (many newcomers are from war-torn countries like Kosovo and Rwanda), and a staggering 70% of its prison population is as well. The Swiss People's Party, which holds the most seats in the country's Parliament, claims these figures are an indication that immigrants are prone to criminality and should be kicked out of Switzerland. But this simplistic logic brings about a chicken-before-the-egg question: Is the bigotry that is fueling Switzerland's current political climate also what is sending an inordinate amount of its immigrants to jail?

The U.N. has condemned the inflammatory poster and the Swiss People's Party proposal to deport foreign-born criminals and their families. All of this is set against the backdrop of pristine perfection for which Switzerland is famous. Zurich and Geneva rank first and second for cities with the best quality of life worldwide.

—Celia Perry