Blackwater author visits Holland
Grand Rapids Press (2007-05-20) Shandra Martinez
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HOLLAND -- Intensely private like his late father Edgar Prince, Erik Prince has moved into the national spotlight because of a best-selling book about his elite private security company known as Blackwater.
On Saturday, Jeremy Scahill, author of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," made his first visit to the community where Erik Prince grew up as the son of the owner of the Prince auto parts company.
Scahill came at the invitation of the Democratic Club of West Michigan.
"I'm neither Democrat or Republican. I'm a journalist," Scahill, 32, told a crowd of about 100 who gathered on an indoor soccer field to hear him speak. Scahill says he tries to accept all invitations to speak but does not take money from private organization's for his appearances.
In addition to the 4 p.m. speech, the Democratic club had Scahill do a 3 p.m. press conference, 6 p.m. dinner in Holland, 8 p.m. talk at Saugatuck's Uncommon Grounds cafe, and another event in Holland today.
He wants to educate the public about the impact that Prince and other private contractors are having on the Iraq war. The "cowboy" behavior of the hired military contractors are endangering lives of U.S. troops, Scahill said.
"I've had a lot of people who tell me 'I've read your book and it is a lot worse,' " said Scahill, whose reports on Blackwater began as articles for The Nation magazine.
Prince's longtime ties with conservative causes and his deep pockets set his firm apart from the 180 firms in Iraq doing armed security. So does Blackwater's reputation as an elite security contractor.
"It's sort of like the Maserati of the industry," Scahill said. "They are being tasked with some of the most critical missions in Iraq."
Attention from Congress
Scahill's in-depth knowledge of Blackwater operations are generating calls from Congress. Two weeks ago, he spoke before the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on defense.
Erik Prince had said his firm is being wrongly labeled as mercenaries by journalists.
"Blackwater professionals do not engage in offensive missions. You would be correct in calling them a team of bodyguards, but very wrong in using a description of them as a private army. Clearly, the mercenary label is intended to polarize the discussion and craft the most negative image possible of Blackwater," he wrote in a statement printed in The Press on May 16.
Scahill contends Blackwater is the definition of mercenary. The firm hires contractors from countries including Chile, Colombia, Poland and Bulgaria.
"This is a company that has recruited mercenaries from countries with some of the most questionable practices on the planet," Scahill said.
Erik Prince declined Scahill's repeated requests to interview him.
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