Blackwater Founder to meet protests at Friday Free Library event
Blackwater has largely become synonymous with everything wrong with U.S. foreign policy. They’re a private army who’ve won over $1 billion in no-bid contracts from the United States; they’ve been linked to the alleged killing of unarmed civilians in the War on Terror; and the group’s founder, Erik Prince, openly stated the Geneva Conventions did not apply to our enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere—after all, he told an audience in Holland, Michigan, those people had “crawled out of the sewer.”
Prince, who currently lives in the United Arab Emirates, will stop by the Free Library of Philadelphia later this week for the “Leading Voices: Conversations from the C-Suite” speaker series. And when he does, he’ll be met by dozens of protesters, according to a Facebook invite. Those protesters would rather not have to show up, though: They’ve also started a petition to get the library to pull Prince from their $40 per ticket event.
“Ideologically, a lot of it has to do with issues of accountability especially in foreign warzones where issues of accountability are already a major issue,” says Rina Mascitti, a local activist who helped start the push for a protest and the accompanying petition. “I felt like that devolution processes [during the War on Terror] to private mercenary armies kind of opened up more space for abuse.”
The petition and protest are being publicized by the Occupy Philadelphia Facebook page and has 55 confirmed guests. Forty-one “maybes.” The protest and Prince’s scheduled event will take place Friday morning at 8am. Entertainingly, Prince is actually promoting a book called Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.
The term “unsung heroes” may have a chill to it for those who’ve been following legal news as of late. In October, the Justice Department brought new charges against four former Blackwater Worldwide security guards. They’re accused of engaging in a Baghdad massacre that killed 14 unarmed civilians and wounded 18 others.
When asked about that incident by ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Prince took an impertinent tone. “If the amount of scrutiny paid to that event was paid to every other shooting of any U.S. forces or other contractor forces, it would tie up the Justice Department for the next decade,” he told the network. “If I sound unapologetic, I guess I am.”
Prince is also well-known for his free market, libertarian views, despite his former company being largely funded by the U.S. taxpayer. Mascitti notes it’s the privatization of U.S. warfare that has many activists up in arms about Prince’s talk.
“I’m against most kinds of privatization because of issues of accountability and profit incentive, but when it comes to warfare and conflict I feel like it’s even more unacceptable,” Mascitti says. “At that point you’re [dealing with] other human beings, you’re taking other people’s physical existence into the whole equation directly.”
On the Free Library’s announcement page, one commenter has called Prince an “infamous war criminal.” The creator of the event notes the library “provides a forum for all topics and points of view.” Mascitti and fellow organizers say they’d like the library to pull the event and offer an apology.
Follow @RandyLoBasso on Twitter